All the Things

A blog by Holly Papa.

Author Interview with Aaron Zenz and a Signed Book Giveaway!

by | Sep 12, 2009 | Giveaways | 46 comments

Holly and Cari are tickled pink to introduce to you Aaron Zenz, author and illustrator of book The Hiccupotamus. Our Double Scoop review of Hiccupotamus is here. Aaron has illustrated several books including Beware the Tickle Monster, Nascar 123 and an Early Reader series with Howie the Dog. He and his three oldest kids also do a weekly post at Bookie Woogie where they discuss books and then share their fan art. Bookie Woogie also happens to be one of our ‘favoritest’ blogs so without further ado here is the fun, the zany, and really cool guy . . . the Hiccupotamus . . .  um we mean Aaron Zenz.

aaronzenz_headAaron please tell us a little about yourself so our readers can get to know you?

Hello, readers.  How are you?  I’m just fine, thank-you.  My name is Aaron Zenz, and I am many things.  Husband to Amity.  Father of 5.  Lover of fruit.  My working life has included stints as a graphic designer, computer game designer, toy designer, graphic recorder, elementary & high school art teacher, college instructor, and lawn mower.  But you are probably most interested in my role as Author/Illustrator.  I’ve had the pleasure of working on 10 children’s picture books.  For nine of those books I illustrated other folks’ wonderful ideas, and for one I was author and illustrator.  That book, “The Hiccupotamus,” was both my first book AND my most recent… that is, it was picked up by a new publisher for re-release this month, and we’re celebrating that here at “Book Scoops” today – hooray!

Glad you could be here today at Bookscoops – where did you get your idea for The Hiccupotamus?

It all started out with an actual case of the hiccups.  I was at my parents’ house — home from college over a weekend — and had the hiccups.  I am known for random punning; the word “hiccupotamus” popped into my mind, and I was trying to think of a riddle in which to use it as a punchline.  But instead of a riddle, a poem just fell out of my mouth: “There was a hiccupotamus who hiccupped quite a-lot-amus, and every time he got’emus he’d fall upon his bottomus.”  After my first reaction (which was “where did that come from?”) my second thought was, “that sounds like a children’s book.” So I jotted it down into a sketchbook.  I didn’t think about it again until a year or so later when I was taking a college class for teachers about using children’s books in the classroom.  At the end of the term the professor had everyone take a shot at writing their own story.  I thought back to that snippet and figured I had a good start, so I pounded out additional verses over the weekend.  And thus my first draft was born.  Over the next 8 years I tinkered with the rhyme, trying to get it right.  Very little of that initial draft remains in the finished version — except for that first verse which is virtually untouched.

Who knew the hiccups could be so inspirational – annoying sure, but inspirational not as much. We’ve really enjoyed how well the text and illustrations work together in your book.  Do you have a preference for writing or illustrating?

It’s hard for me to distinguish the writing from the illustrating.  When I’m crafting my own ideas, everything comes at once.  Characters and their worlds float around in my head, and I simply have to get them down onto paper – sometimes that requires words, sometimes it requires pictures.  For me, the two actions feel very similar.  The part of the whole process I most enjoy is the conceptualizing.  When it eventually comes to solidifying actual words or forming the final art, then it feels like work.  I love the dreaming, the plotting, the hatching, the designing.

Aaron's Workplace - Where books are born!

Aaron's Workplace - Where books are born!

We love learning how artists put their work together and what a fun work room! What audience do you enjoy writing for most?

I really enjoy working for kids.  And working with kids.  My tastes have never evolved with age.  I still love Sesame Street.  I still collect toys.  My parents joke during the holidays because they can shop for me and my children in the same aisles.


Draft Spread

The Hiccupotamus uses rhyming and not in a way one might expect, can you tell us a little about your experience in writing a rhyming text?

Rhyming in general isn’t much trouble — but for this PARTICULAR book, it was a hideous battle. As I said earlier, it took eight years to get this rhyme to work.  The first verse came so naturally.  Effortlessly.  Almost accidentally.  Deceptively easy.  But in reality, it was a very difficult scheme, and nearly impossible to find other words that would fit the pattern.  The first line of each verse had to end with a word whose emphasis fell on the third to last syllable (hip-po-POT-a-mus) and there aren’t that many in the English language.  I went through a dictionary and got them all to fit on one sheet.  Then that magic syllable had to have three rhyming words.  So even if I found a good start, like, e-lec-TRIC-i-ty, what’s going to rhyme?  “Bliss”… uh, “swiss”… um, “abyss”???   And if I did manage to find three, they all had to make sense in a storyline together.  Swiss abyss?  I think not.  Folks will have to check out the final story to judge whether I managed to pull it off…

Wow what a lot of work! Can you tell us about your path to publication?

Over the eight years of working on the story, I showed that college mock-up to lots of different people.  Years later, a couple of those people happened to be starting their own publishing company.  They remembered my draft and contacted me to see if I would “let” them publish it as their first book.  I had to think about that for all of two seconds and said yes!  So unfortunately I don’t have woeful tales about shopping it around for years and years — rather I had a publisher come looking for me.  The book came out in 2005, however the company didn’t last long at all.  Years later, a fellow from Marshal Cavendish who loved the book was trying to get a hold of that first publisher to obtain rights to release it as a board book or a paperback.  The original publisher was gone of course, but he finally tracked me down, and I let him know there was actually still real interest in the initial hardcover version.  So here we are in 2009 with a wonderful re-release!

That’s a story you don’t hear every day. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors/illustrators?


Another Spread

Wait for publishers to come to you.  Noooooooooo… of course not.  But there is something to say for being well-connected.  I myself am not “WELL” connected, but of the opportunities I have had, many have come about because of the few personal ties I do have.  So take lots of jobs.  Do good work.  Leave good impressions.  A low-paying, non-glamorous assignment may not have much reward in itself, but when done wholeheartedly it may kick-off something spectacular later on down life’s road.

Definitely seems like your hard work is paying off with the re-release of Hiccupotamus. We both want to check out Beware the Tickle Monster as well. It seems like most of us have people that inspire us, are there any authors or illustrators that you look to for inspiration?

Oh lands.  Oh mercy.  I could go on all day.  I’m inspired by so many talented folks.  N. C. Wyeth, Winsor McCay, Glen Keane… those are some big ones.  As far as children’s book authors and illustrators who do consistently good work, I look forward to every new release from David Wiesner, Eric Rohmann, Adam Rex, Peter McCarty, and P. J. Lynch to name a few…


Final Spread

We know from following your blog, Bookie Woogie that your kids are waaaaayyyy into books do you have any advice to parents about building a life-long  love of literacy?

Love books yourself.  Model it.  Have books around — in every room of the house.  Make trips to the library into “an event.”  Go for a walk and start in such a place so the library can be the big surprise destination.  Read to your kids daily.  Talk books.  Draw books.  Eat books.  Wear books.  In our house we went to the extreme of throwing out the television.  Set it right out there on the curb and watched the garbage man haul it away.  Best thing we ever did.

Wear books! Hah, not sure we have heard of that one before, but we like the basic premise about surrounding kids with books and opportunities to go the library. We heard a rumor that your family has quite the book collection as in 3,000 books. Obviously you have a passion for books, where did your passion come from?


A portion of the 3,000 books

That 3,000 consists of just the children’s books by the way.  We have countless books beyond that as well.  A friend of mine and I have talked about this often: one of the saddest things ever is a house without books.  There are people you’ll visit, and when you look around there’s not a single book in sight.  Our house is far from sad!  Full of stories.  Reading a book is a peek into another person’s head, into their heart.  Books are rich, diverse experiences — slices of people’s lives tucked between pages.  Through books you connect in intimate ways with people you’ll never meet otherwise.  And books are long-lasting.  If you watch an hour of television, after that hour the program is over with nothing to show for it.  If you spend 20 bucks on food, you eat it and it’s gone.  But a book is a physical treasure — you can hold in your hand.  You can turn to it repeatedly.  It’s something that can follow your travels for the rest of your life… both on your shelves and in your personal make-up.  Not many things in life can do all that.  Books are pretty wonderful.  It’s an honor to have had my hand in making some.

If we could only make sure all children had books in their homes, we wonder what this world would be like? Happier that’s for sure. Speaking of children, as you know at Bookscoops we like to talk about our childhood memories with the books we review for our Double Scoop feature so we wondered what is your favorite childhood memory involving reading?

I really only have one specific memory of reading:  I vividly recall the first time I realized you didn’t have to speak out loud while reading — that people could read in their heads.  That was quite a revelation. The rest of my memories are vague in detail but strong in emotion. I remember a sense of magic while reading the Chronicles of Narnia.  And I’m not referring to the magic contained in the storylines.  But rather the giddy awe of falling into the story.  It was thrilling.  It was a very particular emotion, one I don’t think we have a word for, but an emotion that I remember perfectly.  The characters and worlds seemed so alive.  I think it’s one of the few times I really felt transported to another place through the pages of a book.  And being the Chronicles of Narnia, that’s rather fitting. The Phantom Tollbooth was the first book that I just couldn’t put down.  I read it all in one sitting and was shocked at myself afterward.  I also adored The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Time Machine.  But it was Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles that had the strongest hold on my imagination.  I lived in those books.  They had a huge effect on my lifelong tastes and tendencies, and they shaped my writing style as well.

It’s been marvelous fun as an adult to now knock these off one by one, reading them all over again with my own kids.

What fun memories. We are both big fans of the Chronicles of Narnia as well. Thank you, Aaron, for spending time with us today. It’s been fun and we’ve enjoyed getting to know the creative personality behind The Hiccupotamus.

To see other stops on the blog tour visit Bookie Woogie for full details and another fantastic giveaway done by Aaron (no really it’s good as in 10 books good and the blog is excellent too so please go visit).

Bookscoops Giveaway Details

The lucky winner will receive, not one, but two signed copies of Hiccupotamus, one for you and one for a friend. This giveaway ends on September 19, 2009 at 11:59 pm, mountain standard time and is only available to people living in the United States.

To enter the giveaway you may:

  1. Leave a comment about your favorite memory regarding hippos or hiccups for one entry
  2. Write a blog post about our author interview and giveaway and tell us about it in a comment for one entry
  3. Leave a comment about what you like most about our interview with Aaron Zenz for one entry
  4. Leave a comment about your favorite rhyming book on our Doublescoop of the Hiccupotamus for one entry
  5. If we made you laugh at any point during out interview or Doublescoop tell us for another entry.

*****Please note that all pictures in this post are used with permission and are copyrighted in other words you can’t usethem without Aaron’s permission.*******


  1. Meg Kuta

    It’s so timely and appropriate that you ask the question “If we could only make sure all children had books in their homes, we wonder what this world would be like?” Later this year a local bookstore in Columbus will offer customers the opportunity to donate copies of The Hiccupotamus to a group of disadvantaged children; for many of whom it will be the first book they own. And Aaron has graciously volunteered his time to meet the kids on his next visit to Columbus – which means he is not only funny and creative, but generous and kind-hearted as well! Thank you for a thoughtful interview. A follow-up question for Aaron – how do you have your 3000 books organized? By author? By category? By year?

  2. Wendy

    My favorite part of the interview was this line: “Reading a book is a peek into another person’s head, into their heart.”

    That’s why I read books.

    Thanks for a great review and interview.

    Wendy Jones

  3. Britt, Book Habitue

    My favorite hiccups memory (well, the one that comes to mind…)– when I was pregnant and on bedrest with monkey #1 I had to count all her movements for an hour three times a day. One of the hours she had the hiccups, so I say there counting little hiccups! Pretty funny.

    I’m seriously impressed with the 3,000 books and also really want to know how they’re organized… and if they manage to STAY organized since they’re kids books… our kids books don’t really stay organized for any length of time.

    Your doublescoops ALWAYS make me laugh!
    Awesome giveaway!

  4. Honey Mommy

    I remember I had the hiccups in college and I was sitting on the front row. I was pretty embarassed because it was the kind of hiccups you can’t silence. My friend told me to just relax and they would go away. I thought that was ridiculous! So I made a big show of taking a deep breath and relaxing until I was limp in my chair. Wouldn’t you know it, the hiccups went away!

  5. Lynn

    I hope it’s not cheating to say my favorite hiccuping memory is feeling my son hiccup when I was pregnant. He still gets the hiccups anytime we make him laugh hard, so we have to be careful not to be too goofy!

  6. Lynn

    What I liked most: I loved seeing his workspace. Wow. I just want to sit down there and write.

  7. Lynn

    Your Holly Hippo story made me laugh. (Maybe happy would have been less embarrassing? Oh the power of hindsight!). 🙂

  8. AZ

    Organization of books: Okay, here’s an artist for you… and you may be able to tell from the picture… They books organized according to height. Is that pathetic? But it’s pleasing to my eye. My wife doesn’t like it because she can never find a book if she’s looking for a specific one. But I’m so familiar with the collection that I can walk right up to any requested title.

    Also of possible interest: those cupboards below the shelves are also filled with books. As are 7 bookcases in our living room, 2 in my study, 1 in the boy’s room, and 1 in my closet.

    Thanks again for the interview and tour stop, Sistersbooksoops!

    – Aaron Zenz

  9. Britt, Book Habitue

    Okay, if I’d been paying more attention I may have noticed that they’re organized by height. Yeah, that would drive me nuts too, though sometimes it’s necessary.

    I love that you have a bookcase in your closet.

  10. AZ

    Don’t you love the conclusive nature of the “submit comment” button?

    “They books organized” “Yes, I is a author!”

    But truly, many thanks, Sistersbookscoops!

  11. Penny

    My favorite memory about hiccups is that when I was a child and one of my siblings would get the hiccups, we would all try to scare them out of whomever had them.
    Please enter my name in the contest.

  12. Kristi Valiant

    My favorite memory regarding hippos is picking out baby stuff the past couple weeks – we’re decorating our soon-to-be nursery in hippos and monkeys.
    What I like most about your interview is seeing the great pics of Aaron’s workspace, books, and sketches.
    Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

  13. Boysnberries

    Favorite memory of hippos: The day after my husband proposed he took me to the Toledo Zoo and we admired the hippos. They are part of every Christmas in our home, and our four children now take part as well. We LOVE hippos!

  14. Boysnberries

    Our favorite part of the interview:
    We LOVED seeing AZ’s drawing room. Thanks for that insight. Oh, and we’re glad you like fruit!

  15. Boysnberries

    We laughed out loud at your introduction of being a lawn mower, AZ.

  16. Boysnberries

    Favorite rhyming book- it really is Hiccupotamus, but we also love Ted Sheep Can’t Sleep. And Put me in the Zoo.

  17. Heidi Noel

    (Do I need to submit both of my comments separately? I sure hope not.)

    This post made me laugh a few times and I am not a laugh out loud type person.

    My favorite hippo memory was going to the Denver Zoo. They were brushing the hippo’s teeth and my children thought that was disgusting and fascinating all at once.

  18. hollybookscoops

    Okay, so already the comments are stacking up rapidly- we’re so glad you like the interview and double scoop! Unless Cari wants to take up the torch, I think we will just say that we read them all and will count them, we just won’t reply to each individually. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your memories/stories! We enjoy reading them. Just to clarify, there is no need to submit comments separately- just be sure to be clear what you’re referencing.

  19. MJ

    My favorite hiccup memory is my 7th grade teacher teaching me how to cure them by drinking a cup of water backwards…from the outside rim of the glass…never fails!!


  20. MJ

    I love that his parents shop for him and his kids on the same asiles!!


  21. MJ

    Wearing books made me a kindergarten teacher I wear books often!!


  22. Janet Halfmann

    What I liked most about the interview was that the story was inspired by an actual case of the hiccups!

    What made me laugh was Aaron’s parents’ comment about shopping for him and his kids in the same aisles—and 3000 books!!!

    Fun interview and fun book. Our grandsons would love it. Thanks for the giveaway!

  23. Tara Thomas

    Hippos are great things to write about. In high school English, I hated when we had to learn poetry. But we did get to pick our own poem to break down once, and I found one about a hippo. I still remember the whole thing, and it was one of the few poems where I knew what they were talking about without straining my brain too hard. So I guess that is my favorite memory of a hippo.

  24. Katherine C.

    My favorite hiccup memory is that my son would always get them when he was in the womb!

  25. Meg Kuta

    My favorite hippo memory is of watching a hippo “dance” in the water, gliding, rolling, spinning – impossibly graceful for such a giant animal! And he was clearly having so much FUN! Second favorite: my husband discovered the “burst” feature on our camera (which lets you take lots of pictures in a row) just as we visited the hippos at Busch Gardens. And in the span of a hour, he somehow managed to take 200 pictures of hippos!

    My favorite hiccup memory is when my niece (three at the time) got the hiccups and declared “I’m the Hiccupotamus!)

  26. dag888888

    I liked Aaron’s advice in the interview for parents to love books and model it for their children… exactly what we have been doing and the kid loves books and reading, the libraries and bookstores!

  27. Tara Hill

    The only sure fire way to get rid of hiccups is to sip water upside down. I know it sounds silly, but it works!

  28. Tara Hill

    I thought ‘Swiss abyss’ was pretty funny!

  29. brooke

    Hippos… Favorite memory about them is actually teaching my son how to say the word… He’s a pro now but at first it was quite the silly string of sounds and a lot of giggling…

  30. brooke

    I love that he is so passionate about books… We have a small collection of books and if we didn’t move so much it would be much larger… We read as a family and while toys are still the first thing my kids want to look at; it’s the books that they want to bring home…

  31. Jaime

    My fav Hippo memory would have to be when I took the kids to the zoo and had to explain to them why they poop in their pool.

  32. Mozi Esmes Mommy

    We rode around Lake Malawi in a little speedboat on our honeymoon – and saw hippos in the water with us!

    janemaritz at yahoo dot com

  33. Kelly Ann T.

    I was able to see the baby hippo at the zoo the day after it was born. It was so cute.

  34. Kelly Ann T.

    My favorite part of the interview was how Aaron explained why it took him so long to write the book. I love the illustrations too.

  35. Kelly Ann T.

    I left a comment about my favorite rhyming book your Doublescoop of the Hiccupotamus.

  36. Kelly Ann T.

    Thank you for making me laugh and feel like a kid again.

  37. Natasha @ Maw Books

    Great giveaway ladies! My memory of hippos: I remember the Hogle Zoo had a hibbo and it stunk to high heaven! What did I like the best about this interview? The photo of those picture books!!!

  38. Piroska

    I love that Aaron’s kids have so many books!! What a dream…
    My favourite time when my 3 children were little, was storytime.
    They are all grown now, but hopefully someday soon, I will be able to read stories to my grandchildren.

  39. Janelle @ Brimful Curiosities

    When I was little my grandfather had the hiccups for over a day. I know everyone was very concerned. I can’t remember how he got rid of them, but I think maybe they just stopped on their own. I’ll have to ask him next time I see him.

  40. Annie Carver

    Like Holly, one of my favorite Christmas songs is “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. Only a hippopotamus will do” The song bring back memories of when I was little and my dad would sing that song to me. My dad would also read me stacks of books until I fell asleep, or as the case often was, he fell asleep. My little girl also got hiccups before she was born and almost daily for several months afterward. She sometimes still gets them. I am trying to share my love of books with her. Aaron’s suggestions on how to get children to love books are great.

  41. Tiffany S.

    I love the old wives tales about hiccups and I have lots of fond memories of different people trying to teach me how to get rid of them. lol! Thank you!

  42. Swati

    That was very interesting – reading about how Zenz went about getting the words to rhyme. I never knew it could have been so much trouble. Alternatively, I didn’t know that even rhyming was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. As to 3000 books, wow, if I had them, I’d think I had died and was in heaven! A suggestion to Zenz, if I may – do enter that photo (or any other) – at the Paper Tigers blog’s ongoing Bookshelves around the world project. Its fun!

  43. Rebecca

    Wonderful interview! I had the image of a couple of old boyfriends pop up when he said “my parents joke they can shop for me and my children in the same aisles.” Cracked me up!

    I loved this book. I knew it would be a hit with my pre-k students as soon as I started reading it in the store!

  44. Roberta

    This is a great interview, especially the part about wearing books to promote literacy 🙂 (Not that it hasn’t been done. I have heard of one author who made is family wear t-shirts promoting his latest book.) Seriously, 3000 children’s books in the house says a lot.

  45. Theresa N

    The pictures are beautiful and FUN!! Hiccups are such a mystery to me I always seem to get them at the worst time. Church, job interviews….
    Theresa N



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