Why teach your kids that A is for apple and B is for ball, when they could learn that A is for alien and B is for banshee instead? In "Monster ABC," a board book by Hazy Dell Press, learning the alphabet is as fun for adults as it is for children.
Founding Hazy Dell Press was a dream of Pacific Northwest locals Derek and Kyle Sullivan. The identical twin brothers grew up sharing a room together, drawing pictures and trying to make each other laugh.
“Around middle school we diverged in our creative outlets,” says Kyle. Derek threw himself into writing and Kyle began perfecting his craft as an illustrator.
“When you’re pursuing creative endeavors, there is always a certain amount of self-doubt,” says Derek. “You do it because you’re passionate about it, not because you want to get rich quick.”
Once the brothers had established themselves in their respective fields, they teamed up to form their own children’s book brand, Hazy Dell Press. The imprint is named after their hometown of Hazel Dell, Wash.
Following the 2015 publication of "Monster ABC," the brothers created "The Monster Series," which is aimed at ages 1 through 7, and aligns with Common Core public-school curriculum standards. Titles include "Goodnight Krampus," "Get Dressed, Sasquatch!," "Hush Now, Banshee!," "Don’t Eat Me, Chupacabra!/No Me Comas, Chupacabra!" and a five-book gift set.
Fans of the series have shared stories of their children’s connection to the books. One parent described how her kindergartner wrote “necromancer” when prompted to name a word that starts with the letter N. Another mother said she recited the Monster ABCs to help her cope with labor pains. Many kids try their hand at drawing the monsters themselves and share their artwork with the Sullivan brothers at book-tour events.
“A 7-year-old boy drew a vampire and zombie and other monsters and did a fantastic job,” says Kyle, who now lives in Portland. “We were just puzzled and overwhelmed that a child spent time within his day to recreate the monsters in our book. We sent him a letter of encouragement because that’s who we were as kids, and encouragement from adults in our lives was such an important part of our development.”
Not only are monsters fun to illustrate, says Kyle, but they are great avatars for teaching lessons in a narrative. “Monsters can make mistakes, monsters can be a little rough around the edges,” says Kyle. “For children who are constantly inundated with socialization rules and lessons, it’s really a safe space free of judgment to watch a monster learn a lesson that may be applicable to their lives without having the heat on them.”
Derek, who is now based in Seattle's Central District, says he hopes the books promote diversity and inclusion as well as make kids happy.
“Monsters can represent anybody,” says Derek. “A child can come from any background, any part of the world, any situation in their household and identify with a monster as being themselves. They don’t have to worry about the monster being a different gender or skin color. They can just say, 'That’s me, I identify with this creature.'”
The brothers are dedicated to encouraging kids to keep reading and exploring. “Reading opens up the door to the widest possible world of empathy and imagination. We want children to know that their voice matters,” says Derek. “There’s nothing they can’t be and no adventure they can’t go on because they have a vibrant, extremely valuable imagination.”
Books and related merchandise, plus activities related to the books, can be found on the Hazy Dell Press website.