Lara and Brandon Hayes

JERSEYVILLE - A local couple has embarked on their biggest collaboration yet: a children’s book.

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Lara and Brandon Hayes recently published “Carl the Kindly Kraken,” the story of a sea monster who prefers to hug ships, not attack them. Written by Lara and illustrated by Brandon, the story shares an important lesson about staying true to yourself, which both have relearned during the process of self-publishing the book earlier this year.

“I think since peer pressure is such a big thing, especially now with social media and stuff with younger kids, it's just hard to stay true to yourself,” Lara said. “We just thought that it would be nice to write a story about a character that was so different and they didn’t let anyone persuade them to do otherwise. I think that no matter where you are in life, that’s a good lesson, to stay true to who you are.”

Lara and Brandon began working on the story several years ago. Their kids were younger and they had been reading a lot of children’s books.

When a conversation about krakens spurred Lara to write the story, Brandon immediately got to work illustrating it. He often illustrates Lara’s stories or creates pictures that inspire Lara to write. But right away, they both knew there was something special about this one.

“This was the first one that we were like, this is the one that we really would like to focus on getting published and made into a full children’s book,” Brandon remembered.

Over the years, the two of them encouraged each other to keep working. When Lara criticized her writing, Brandon was there to remind her how great the story was. Brandon shared that he always wanted to go to art school, but he was talked out of it when he was younger. Now, it has been fulfilling to illustrate the book and see his art in the world.

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“I’ve been drawing my entire life. So for me to finally say, I’m going to actually do something with it, that was kind of tough for me to do,” he explained. “It took a lot of people pushing me, especially Lara. She really pushed me, and I know she is the same way. She’s very critical of herself, and it kind of took me to say, no, this story is really good. We need to make it happen and let other people see it.”

As Lara and Brandon shared a story about staying true to oneself, they learned the same lesson. It has been “rewarding” to have physical copies of their work and to see how the book resonates with others.

The duo has many other stories in the works, including a graphic novel. They hope to finish writing and illustrating it soon.

“We work pretty well together, which is good since we’re married,” Lara laughed. “We have several stories written. I just came up with one that’s actually quite a bit different than this one. It would be more geared towards older kids, and so we’re kind of playing with the idea of going that route before going to another children’s picture book.”

No matter what they do next, they have some advice for people who want to try their hand at a creative endeavor. Both Lara and Brandon encourage them to go for it.

“Do it. That’s honestly the hardest part, to put yourself out there,” Brandon said. “Just do it. Just don’t be afraid. If you fail, you fail. At least you tried to make it happen.”

Purchase a copy of “Carl the Kindly Kraken” on Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com.

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