For Kathleen Harward, the heroes and themes in her books are her medicine for today’s social ills. She sees them as antidotes for a generation of youth that would rather blame and destroy instead of solve and create.
Her path as an independent publisher of children’s books is one inspired by experience and heart. In 2021, she founded Brandy Pie Book Co. This move came after serving for almost 15 years as a campus lawyer, serving as director of student legal services at Colorado State University. In that capacity, she helped college students overcome mistakes, learn resilience, think entrepreneurially, and develop abilities to make their own and other people’s lives better.
But her time in a university setting often put her at odds with her colleagues.
“I was sometimes the only voice speaking out in meetings against policies that I didn’t like,” Harward said. She felt the students were being indoctrinated with ideologies that were mislabeled and pushed forward as “social justice.”
“I think what I experienced is unfortunately pervasive today,” she said. “It’s a tear-down message rather than a build-up one.”
Harward decided to do some investigations of her own into the children’s section at her local libraries. What she found disturbed her.
“In earlier years, I believed the destructive trend was limited to the higher education bubble, but it’s apparent now that children in many elementary schools are already being primed for this way of thinking.
“I was shocked when I saw what was new and being added to the shelves, all these brand-new picture books and early books for children—and identity politics in them.
“I grew up surrounded by everyday heroes,” such as dogs, kids, grandmas, nurses, teachers, and parents, she explained. Instead of blaming others, “you overcome obstacles, learn to do the hard things, and make lives better.”
The thought of staying silent was concerning to Harward.
“This stuff [such as identity politics] is so damaging. We need to find a better way,” she said. “We need to help our children”—and family and good books are a good place to start.
Harward took a leap of faith. At the end of 2020, she decided to leave the university and get to work creating children’s books about characters who are “makers” and not “breakers.”
“I felt I had to do something in my own simple way to help our children,” Harward said. One way to do that was “to give them a coat of armor, show them they are surrounded by everyday heroes, and perhaps to help them grow into heroes themselves.”
Her first book, “The Shared Dog,” is about a mother and father who guide their children through the life of a family dog. They, their three daughters, and a chocolate Labrador named Brandy Wilbur Pie share a life of nurturing care. Brandy turned out to be the perfect caregiver for them all, even extending vigilance to the grandparents living next door. From their wonderful family dog, the girls learn valuable lessons throughout their childhoods about unconditional love.
The inspiration for this book came from a real-life chocolate Labrador named Brandy Wilbur Pie—who also serves as the namesake for Harward’s new publishing company.
As she navigated the new territory of publishing children’s books, Harward looked to CJ Designs in Colorado to help with branding, book layout design, and establishing an e-commerce-based children’s book company.
Brandy Pie Book Co.’s branding and logo design are intentionally warm, friendly, and serenely soothing. The illustrations are easy on the eye: soft, inviting, and created with a style that is graceful and gentle. Harward intends to keep the memory of this faithful, spirited, and beautiful dog alive as the company moves forward.
To execute these visuals, Harward discovers young artists in different countries for the task of illustrating her stories. Artists such as Gabriella Sulbarán from small-town Merida, Venezuela, or Sergey Avdeev, an artist and art teacher from Siberia. Harward is keen on helping young entrepreneurs succeed.
Incorporating young artists not only showcases their talents, but also helps with Harward’s hopeful messaging: encouraging confidence, curiosity, and collaboration. For Harward, children start out this way, and she wants her books to encourage these natural impulses.
Rebecca Hill, a good friend, teacher, and writer, assists with book editing.
One of the guiding perspectives for Harward’s company is that its stories have something to share “for the head and heart of any age.” She calls them the “pots and pans” stories of living. Harward knows that children would rather play with the pots and pans they can find in a cupboard rather than a toy out of a box.
“Children lean toward what is authentic!”
After “The Shared Dog,” Harward published three more children’s books.
“The Lost Recipe” is about a search for Grandma’s lost recipe, which illustrates that remembering and savoring favorite recipes from those we love is a way of honoring their memories. In “The Paddleboard Dog,” a science teacher and her Border Collie-mix offers her students daily lessons on living a full life in the great outdoors. And finally, “Who Likes Green Pancakes?” follows a creative nurse who juggles the precious care of sick children with her own daughter’s dreams for the holiday season.
“Our stories are set in creeks, canyons, mountains, backyards, and kitchens,” and are meant for everyone. “We create for ages 3 to 100,” Harward said. “We start early and never stop trying to figure things out.”
As for Brandy Pie Book Co., “Our stories are about a way of living.”
Harward’s decision to start her own company took courage.
“I come from a family of courageous people.” she said with a laugh.
Her father was a small-town Nebraska lawyer. The county he worked in as a prosecutor was a safe haven for homeschoolers.
“At that time, it was illegal to homeschool … parents could be put in jail,” said Harward, fondly remembering her father’s respect for the power of parents and offering them sanctuary in the county he served.
After she left home, those lessons stuck with her.
“When I was an undergrad at Rutgers, we had great teachers but there was a push to socialism,” Harward said. “You had to resist to point out the flaws.”
Harward now has three grown daughters. Two are nurses and the other is a science teacher. They are stellar young women in her eyes, and poignant stories from their lives were incorporated into several of her books. There is much authenticity and, as a result, her stories resonate with strength and sensitivity.
Harward is working on her fifth book, which focuses on adults who lead. While having her books do well commercially, she is keen on having them available on library shelves and classrooms throughout the country.
Thanks to a recent generous donor, Brandy Pie Books are now available for donations to libraries and classrooms. She’s on her way.
After a visit to Montana to visit her youngest daughter, Harward shared that her books are now available in downtown Billings at This House of Books.
“It is a co-op model where anyone can buy a share of ownership in the co-op and get discounts and the like, and author-owners get shelf space at the front of the store, presence on its website, and promotional events,” said an enthusiastic Harward. “There are some very well-known author-owners, too!”
While Harward’s company is small, her vision is large. With the holidays approaching, she’s optimistic that families craving fresh stories with timeless values will look to her Brandy Pie series.
“There’s a special role for each one of us…we have an obligation to make the world a little better,” she said. “Hopefully, these stories will show children how.”
To order books or connect with Kathleen Harward, visit BrandyPieBooks.com