A space pirate named Ham thinks that every alien creature has love except for him. He journeys across the galaxy to find where love comes from. Will he find love? Will he be able to get some for himself?
To find out, read Pine View alumna Sara Jonas’ recently published children’s book, “Ham’s Big Adventure.”
The book was inspired by Jonas’ fellow Pine View alumnus and late friend Jamie Meyers, who died in 2016 from cancer.
“When Jamie passed away, the first thing I did was get a tattoo in his honor, and then I ended up donating my hair the next year to Children With Hair Loss. The year after that, I started writing this book. I always wanted to write a children’s book, and I knew he wanted to be a teacher when he grew up. I realized I could do this for him. It gave me a reason to do it that was really important,” Jonas said.
It was not just the idea for the book that came from memories of Jamie — Jonas created the main character of the story, Ham the space pirate, to honor Jamie too.
“The whole character is based on what Jamie looked like. The curly hair, he used to wear denim all the time, he had an eye patch when he was going through his surgeries and chemo. Kids would always run up to him in the mall and say, ‘Oh my god, it’s a pirate!’ and he would fully play along with it, which was so cute. I had the idea for Ham because I used to call him Hammy, and he called me Hara because I mistyped his name once and it just stuck,” she said.
The book began as a poem that Jonas wrote in 2019. She later adapted the poem into a story after her sister pointed out its potential.
On top of the writing, Jonas also did all of the illustrations in the book herself, drawing and hand-painting each one, then editing them digitally. With a degree in studio art, Jonas is no stranger to this process, but she reached out to retired Pine View art teacher Retsy Lauer — whose art room Jonas said she practically lived in during high school — for guidance. Lauer taught art to both Jonas and Meyers.
“They both took art in high school. Some years they were in the same class and other years they were in different classes,” Lauer said. “They were best friends. They were just such good friends and thought very highly of each other. There was a lot of respect for each other.”
Lauer said that Jonas went through several versions of the illustrations, making small tweaks and big changes along the way, but eventually ended up with a final product she is proud of Jonas for.
“When I look at her illustrations of Ham, I immediately see Jamie. She really did a good job with them,” Lauer said.
Throughout the book, there are elements of the illustrations that are particularly special for those who knew Jamie.
“On different pages sometimes his eye patch moves, and it was originally a mistake, but I decided to keep it because Jamie used to have to move his eyepatch when one eye would get stronger than the other one. The whole book is just filled with a bunch of little things like that,” Jonas said.
Along with the character, the story itself is also meaningful. For Jonas, Ham’s journey represents dealing with grief after losing a loved one and realizing that their love will always be with you.
“That was a huge thing that Jamie was about, was just letting people know that you love them when you did. Whether it was friends or family, just telling them you love them every single day because you don’t know when it’s going to be the last,” Jonas said.
She hopes that tackling this difficult topic in a children’s book will help young people who are dealing with grief.
“Jamie’s grandma posted it on Facebook, and a lot of people were commenting on her post saying that they gave it to their grandson who lost a sister and stuff like that and how meaningful it was to them. Even some parents that lost their own children bought it,” Jonas said. “I know my grandma actually just gave her book away to a kid that’s going through the same kind of cancer that Jamie had, so he is also wearing the eye patch right now. It’s really nice to hear that it’s spreading everywhere like that because that was the intention.”
To further this cause, Jonas has also decided to donate a third of her proceeds from the book to Tidewell, a local hospice which took care of Meyers before his passing. Specifically, the money will go to their Blue Butterfly Project, which provides resources for children processing grief.
After months of writing, illustrating, and editing, Jonas was able to hold the first copy of the book.
“It was weird holding it in-person for the first time. I had been seeing it on the screen the whole time, and my illustrations are actually much bigger than the book because I wanted to make sure that when it shrunk down, it wouldn’t lose quality. I had only seen all of the words and pages together on my computer, so it’s just wild holding it in your hand as a physical object,” she said.
Since publishing the book in October 2020, Jonas said she has received more responses and support than she was expecting.
“A lot of people from Pine View that knew Jamie, even if they didn’t know me that well, have been really supportive. I saw that a girl who I haven’t talked to since high school wrote a really nice review of the book,” Jonas said. “It means a lot that people connect with this book because of Jamie.”