Sarah Beliza Tucker's "The Adventures of Harry and Friends" is a labor of love decades in the making.
Harry the Redheaded Lizard has been a part of Sarah Beliza Tucker's life since she was in ninth grade.
The Ormond-by-the-Sea resident first created the character when she wrote a Christmas story for her creative writing class. Years later when she met her husband, Stan Lee, she told the story to his martial arts students.
“The kids fell in love with it, and [Lee] asked me if I would be interesting in developing something for the martial arts industry along the lines of character," Tucker recalled.
And so, the “Harry and Friends Black Belt Principles Character Education Program" cartoons were born. Tucker, who owns Ocean Aire productions, began as a Fox Kids Club actress and producer, before moving on to theater, animation and video game production, according to a press release. Her company has been helping teach character development in the martial arts industry since 2006, and she wanted to bring that to life in a print format.
Inspired by all the children, teachers and parents she has worked with in the last two decades, her new book series, "The Adventures of Harry and Friends," is a passion project. All these years, she's been trying to make a difference with Harry.
“It’s a calling," Tucker said. "It’s definitely a passion because I have other ideas and different stories, and different aspects that I wanted to do, but everything kept coming back to Harry. I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m just going to focus on Harry, because this is where I’m supposed to be.’”
Lee, United Martial Arts chief instructor and founder, said the books have been a "big hit" because children, especially those ages 3-5, are visual learners.
“One of the things that I think is amazing is that because of Sarah’s background in film production and cartoons, the books read differently than just a regular children’s book," Lee said.
The children at United Martial Arts are familiar with Harry and Friends, as they've read each of the three new books Tucker has recently self-published on Amazon. They're her beta group, Tucker said.
One of the characters in her books is Ringo, who Tucker described as the "mischievous child who sometimes learns the hard way." One time, when a student began to misbehave, Tucker witnessed another student telling him, "Don't be a Ringo." The student apologized for his behavior shortly afterward, Tucker recalled.
“So I know that these books are making a difference in these kids lives just from that experience.”
The books are illustrated by Adam Ihle, who voices one of the characters in the cartoons. Tucker and Ihle met over 10 years ago because of this.
Being able to hold a physical copy of her new book series — she hopes to publish two more books by the end of the year — brings Tucker an "overwhelming feeling of joy."
“It’s like a parent seeing their child get their black belt," Tucker said. "It’s a lot of hard work. They see what they’ve gone through to receive that achievement and it’s the same thing with me with these books.”
Her goal? She hopes to get her books in the hands of 100,000 kids.