Powell Children’s Author and Illustrator Jason Tharp on the Politicization of Rainbows

Jason Tharp’s book, “It’s Okay To Be a Unicorn,” became a source of controversy at Buckeye Valley West Elementary School.

Suzanne Goldsmith
Author Jason Tharp wrote “It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn!” for all kids who feel different. The book was inspired by his childhood, when others mocked his dream of becoming a writer.

As “gotcha” questions go, the one that author-illustrator Jason Tharp fielded during an assembly last April at Buckeye Valley West Elementary was a little surprising.

“Do you like rainbows?” a boy asked.

“Sure. Doesn’t everybody?” Tharp replied.

“Well, I don’t,” the boy said.

The day before, Tharp had received a call from the principal asking him not to read from his picture book, “It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn!,” about a unicorn who’s uncomfortable in a world of horses. It doesn’t mention gender or sexuality—and Tharp is straight, not that it matters—but the pictures include rainbows. Emails between school board members that were later obtained by a local TV news station reveal that some thought Tharp was “pushing LGBTQ ideas.”

The Powell resident left the book out of his presentation but was dismayed that the school took down the drawings of rainbows and unicorns that students had made in anticipation of his visit. He wrote the book for all kids who feel different—as he did when he was a child and others mocked his dream of becoming a writer.

What Tharp, 46, took from his experience at Buckeye Valley West was a conviction that he should begin speaking to adults. To those, perhaps, who would tell a child that rainbows are bad—or who were themselves teased as children. He’s now working on a memoir, and he gives talks to adults about inclusion, empathy and creativity. 

This story is from the December 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.