COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jason Tharp said he was a child who just didn’t fit in with many of his fellow students. He says a guidance counselor once told him he’d never amount to anything because all he did was draw all over everything.
He internalized the difficult emotions he experienced back then and eventually channeled them into his work as an adult. These days, he’s an author, illustrator and self-publisher.
He has about 15 books available right now, but one of the most popular books is one called, “It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn.” The book teaches acceptance for children who feel different than their peers.
“I think a book can save people cause it saved me when I was a kid,” Tharp said. “I got lost in books, and it taught me that it was okay to be creative, and it was okay to think different, and so that was what my mission was with this book was just to write something that helped kids understand it is good that you’re different than me, and it is good because we can learn something from each other. And a unicorn’s the best way to do it because kids love unicorns.”
But it’s that unicorn, along with the rainbow lettering on the cover, that seems to have given some people the wrong idea.
Tharp said, ahead of a planned school visit this week in the Buckeye Valley Local School District, he learned a parent had raised concerns about his book being discussed with students.
And then he says he got a call from the building principal. He was asked to not talk about his unicorn book and to adjust his planned presentation. Following that conversation, he says he received an email, which he shared with 10TV, asking him to also exclude his book about a skunk called, “It’s Okay to Smell Good.”
He feels sure that anyone upset about either book has not even cracked it open. And, to be clear, Tharp is a straight, married man who says he is most certainly not trying to push an LGBTQ agenda. He simply wants to connect with students and offer support, encouragement and inspiration.
“I’m not here to entertain adults that want to project their own whatever issues onto a children’s book, I’m here to create books that inspire kids to dream big, embrace themselves, understand the importance of self-kindness, to really learn how to manage your emotions because it’s a confusing world we live in, and being a human is not easy,” he said. “If an adult is struggling, that’s what therapy’s for, not my kids’ books, and I hope that maybe even my kids’ books might inspire some adults, but they’re meant for the child to figure themselves out, just be a tool, that’s it.”
Still, he went ahead and made his planned school visit on Thursday, eliminating any mention of the two books he was asked to avoid. He says he was disappointed, not only for him but for the students who missed out on a presentation so many other students have enjoyed without controversy.
When 10TV reached out to the district directly, the interim superintendent initially said Tharp had not been asked to avoid discussing his book, adding that the book had not been part of the planned presentation.
Tharp disputes that and, again, provided an email from the building principal that asked him to not discuss his skunk book.
“That’s the lesson in all of this,” he said. “If somebody would have just sent me a message and had a conversation with me, they would have known everything. I would have been more than happy to explain everything, of all the stuff I have been through that has led up to all this stuff.”
10TV is still waiting to hear back from the interim superintendent with further clarification.