Norman Rea spent years in the licensing business, working in New York City with characters produced by some of the biggest children's manufacturers like Disney and The Muppets. But what he really wanted to do was create a cartoon character of his own. So he did.
Meet The Wishaphants, a group of elephant-esque creatures with distinct personalities that Rea hopes will deliver critical messages.
I wanted to do something with children and make positive image characters for children, said Rea. "The name kind of means good wish, good things for children, and part of the storyline is they can only be seen by children."
Working with renowned artist Rick O'Boyle, Rea watched The Wishaphants come to life.
There is Ataro, the "wise old character" and leader of The Wishaphants. Then there's Nia and Zuri, two female Wishaphants, one who is "beautiful" and the other "athletic and acrobatic." Kazi is a "strong, macho" male character and Zo is "the brain, the wizard." The Wishaphant crew is rounded out by twin toddlers Pacha and Kira.
The seven characters combine to create a picture storybook focused on a topic or issue facing young children today. Rea's hope is to integrate the books, free of charge, into elementary schools across the Capital Region.
"Once I moved here [Rexford]I've done a lot of fundraisers to help various causes and I always wanted to do something to give back to children. We're not selling the books, we're looking for underwriters so we can give books away to public schools and charter schools," said Rea.
Rea might be the brains behind the project, but he needed someone to write The Wishaphant's story.
That's where Poestenkill Elementary School principal Peter DeWitt, and part-time children's author, came in.
"I wanted to talk about what I thought would be hot button issues for elementary education the first thing I chose was based on nutrition I wanted to focus on something that wasn't just kids bringing in snacks or unhealthy school lunch program, but something where kids feel empowered to change," said DeWitt.