From ant to zebra

February 6, 2015

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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Newcastle author illustrates the ABCs for a good cause

By Christina Corrales-Toy By Christina Corrales-Toy Author Dana Sullivan reads his book, ‘Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari’ to a group of children at Bellevue’s University Bookstore Jan. 22.

By Christina Corrales-Toy
Author Dana Sullivan reads his book, ‘Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari’ to a group of children at Bellevue’s University Bookstore Jan. 22.

Newcastle resident Dana Sullivan doesn’t always wear bunny rabbit slippers in public, but when he does, it’s for a gaggle of adorable children.

Sullivan and his floppy-eared footwear made an appearance at Bellevue’s University Bookstore Jan. 22, where the author and illustrator read his newest book, “Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari,” to a cute, albeit somewhat restless, audience of toddlers.

The congregation of youngsters paid its guest speaker in juice and crackers, while the former Costco creative director responsible for the company’s iconic logo sent each attendee home with his or her own personalized safari-themed drawing.

“I found the main reason to do children’s books is so you can do school visits and things like these,” Sullivan said after the story time. “And I love kindergarteners. They’re just so goofy. They’ll say anything.”

Sullivan’s latest book takes its readers on a scenic journey through the village of Bungoma in Kenya, a real place that has a special part in the author’s heart.

Part alphabet book, part philanthropic endeavor, the story follows Kay Kay as he seeks artistic inspiration for the blank canvas that is a white-washed wall in a Star of Hope classroom.

Kay Kay decides he’ll paint pictures of animals on the walls, from ants to zebras, as an alphabet teaching tool for the classroom’s students. He first needs to decide which animals he’ll depict, though, so he walks through the Kenyan countryside looking for ideas.

On the web

Find out where you can purchase “Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari,” at www. and learn more about the Star of Hope Centre for Children at

He meets a bevy of critters including a crocodile, a snake and a meerkat, but initially dismisses them, preferring to stay focused on his task to find inspiration. It isn’t until the end, with the help of the Star of Hope students, that he realizes the inspiration is right in front of him.

Both Kay Kay and the Star of Hope Centre for Children are very real. Kay Kay, whose real name is Amos Muthama, is a taxi driver in Bungoma. He’s also a barber and artist, Sullivan explained.

The Star of Hope Centre for Children is an orphanage and school in Kenya that Sullivan’s family has essentially adopted.

“When we got there, it was just this magical place,” Sullivan said of his 2011 visit. “It’s filled with these beautiful children and staff who gave them loving homes. A lot of these kids are orphaned by AIDS or election violence.”

After visiting, Sullivan, who on that same visit received word that Sleeping Bear Press would publish his very first book, “Ozzie and the Art Contest,” knew that if he was going to help the children, it would likely be through a book.

But it took him a bit of time to decide how he would feature Star of Hope in his writings.

“I was actually terrified,” Sullivan said. “I thought, how do I write a picture book for children based on a place of hardship in a country of such poverty?”

Kay Kay really did paint murals on the school’s walls, and that became the inspiration for Sullivan’s book, released at the end of 2014.

“I just was so touched, I knew that was the heart of my story,” Sullivan said of Kay Kay’s works.

Sullivan actually started a nonprofit to raise funds to support the orphanage. In November, one of the organization’s board members visited the school and read “Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari,” aloud with the real Kay Kay sitting just beside her, Sullivan said.

During the visit, a child Sullivan met in 2011 relayed a message back to him in the states — “You tell Uncle Dana he needs to write a book about us.”

“So I have my orders,” Sullivan joked. “Now I’m thinking about a book about the children.”

Sullivan will donate 10 percent of “Kay Kay’s Alphabet Safari” sales to the orphanage.

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