Jason Tharp, author of the chapter book series Peachy and Keen, is a strong believer in the power of positivity. Self-proclaimed ‘obsessive daydreamer’ and ‘Chief Creative Dreamer’ of his own studio, Jason’s series (recommended for readers between the ages of 7-10) follows two best friends, Peachy and Keen—who are somewhat of an unlikely pair, considering that they are a cat and dog—as they work with their classmates to achieve their goals by problem-solving, working together, and never giving up. In an exclusive interview for OOM, Jason answered a few questions about his series and the power of positivity in books.
Click here to read a chapter excerpt of Jason Tharp’s first book in the Peachy and Keen series: A School Tail.
There's more! We are giving three readers the chance to win a copy of Peachy & Keen: Spirit Week Showdown. To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below. One entry per person. All entries must be submitted by 5:59 p.m. ET on July 10, 2018. U.S. residents, 18 and over, please. See the complete legal rules here.
Could you begin by telling us a little bit about your background, and what led you to write this series?
I grew up in a small town in Ohio with gigantic dreams of becoming a storyteller. When I was a kid, I was hooked on drawing—I used to cover the television screen with paper, and trace my favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters! Soon my parents informed me that there are people who get paid to make cartoons. From that point on, I decided I was becoming a professional storyteller. Like any great dream chase, I had no clue how to do it.
After graduating from art school, I joined the “real world,” where I began chasing someone else’s dreams. One day, when I was feeling pretty low, I asked myself an important question: “What if I stopped chasing everyone else’s dreams and started chasing my dreams?” So that’s what I did. I quit my job, and ran towards my six-year-old self’s dream. Today, I am lucky enough to be a forty-one-year-old kid, who gets to live out his dreams every day.
There are strong themes of positivity in the face of challenges, problem-solving, and self-acceptance woven throughout the Peachy and Keen series. Why were those important themes for you to include?
I think everyone—kids and adults—struggles with feeling alone and different, wondering if they are headed on the right path, and if they have the self-confidence to make it. I know all these feelings so well! The themes in the Peachy and Keen series serve as an extended hand that remind readers: “You are not alone.” My biggest hope is that someone reading the books will relate to, and gain strength from, one of the fun characters in the series. I truly believe that everyone is special. Your life is yours story to tell and yours to write. To me, that is pretty special.
In the second book in the series, there is a stronger focus on Gertie the Unicorn, who is a classmate of Peachy and Keen’s. Was including a unicorn—a symbol for uniqueness—a strategic choice?
Yes, Gertie is a very important symbol of uniqueness. Unicorns are symbols of magic, love, smiles, kindness, and mystery–making them the perfect creature for shaping a story. You never know what the “weird” kid may be like, or what about their personality makes them so special. If we all appreciate people’s unique characteristics—as we would appreciate a unicorn’s—the world might be a better place. We all have the opportunity to be a unicorn in someone’s life, don’t you think?
You have recently been visiting schools, primarily in your home state of Ohio, to chat with students about your work. Are you ever surprised or inspired by what you experience during these visits?
I am inspired by every visit and by every kid! A magical exchange happens every time we talk with kids–instead of at kids—and the moments where the kids “get it” really touch my heart.
The surprises are the drawings the kids give me, the giant welcome signs, and amazing introductions to my visits. The kids think I inspire them, but it’s the other way around. I am grateful beyond words. I love my job!
What would you like to say to any educators or students who are just picking up a Peachy and Keen book? What should they know before they begin reading?
First, I hope you like the book. A lot of great people put a lot of hard work into it.
Secondly, it’s meant to be a fun, light-hearted book. The illustrations really call out the important parts of the story, and encourage reluctant readers to give Peachy and Keen a chance. Each book contains a lesson and provides a great opportunity for dialogue with a child. The lessons are simple, but when they’re repeated, we have a better shot of helping all those “weird” kids understand that they are amazing exactly the way they are!