Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce –winner of the Carnegie Medal

tom's midnight garden

1958 winner of the Carnegie Medal in Literature. I thought originally that I had a hard time getting into this book because it was old, and then I realized I liked a lot of old books, so I started thinking about what was wrong. I finally figured out that the Carnegie Medal is the UK’s prestigious literary medal, and so, I simply needed to turn my brain towards England, instead of Canada, and the book started to make more sense to me.

When Tom’s brother is taken ill with measles, Tom has to go live with Aunt Gwen and Uncle Alan in a small apartment, in quarantine. As Tom yearns for the outdoors and playmates, he stumbles upon a secret world as he travels back in time each night to when the ancient estate was a home with a garden. Tom gets more and more entwined in the friendship he forms with a girl named Hatty until he is determined to change times forever and live in the past.

I enjoyed this read, although I think that young readers of today, especially American, might have a hard time making the transition to this foreign and byegone era. I realized how much immunizations have changed the way we live. When was the last time you heard of someone being in quarantine? I’m sure glad that I’ve never had to be in quarantine, but it really makes you think about flu epidemics and other things that could lead to the return of quarantines. I guess it’s best to be prepared to not be able to always get everything we want right when we want it. Boy what a change that would be for our immediate gratification society!

As an interesting note, I read this book and wrote this review before H1N1 quarantines at the beginning of the summer, but believe me I sure was thinking about this book when the virus first became known. How do you think books can prepare us for major health epidemics, as some scientists have predicted will inevitably occur?


Announcing the Winner of the Hiccupotamus Giveaway!

hiccupotomasA great big thanks to all who entered and made comments on our interview with Aaron Zenz and/or our Double Scoop for the Hiccupotamus! We enjoyed learning about your favorite hippo and hiccup memories. Now, without further ado, we announce our winner: Kelly Ann T.

Congratulations! This is an excellent book and we hope you enjoy!

The contest has officially ended. We will keep the comments open so feel free to continue to make comments, but you won’t be eligible to enter the giveaway.

Author Interview with Aaron Zenz and a Signed Book Giveaway!

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.*******

the Hiccupotamus by Aaron Zenz

For our Double Scoop in September we are  reviewing the Hiccupotamus by Aaron Zenz – a hilirious, rip-rhyming book about a hippo with the hiccups.


Holly has been eagerly waiting to get her hands on this book. We decided we both liked it so much that we went ahead and reviewed it as our double scoop for this month. Our review of the Hiccupotamus is also part of a blog tour for the re-release of Aaron’s book.

Cari: What did  you like about the book? Or rather why did you want to get this book?

Holly: I was putting together a themed gift at Christmas time for my three boys that involved books and hippos. The Hiccupotamus color scheme coordinated very well with the other title I had.

Cari: Is that all?

Holly: Well I have always loved hippopotomi (My favorite Christmas song is I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas) so when I heard about this book I went to Aaron’s website. I saw some of the preview pictures and read the first stanza and I knew I had to have it.

Cari: I think you like hippos because a lot of them are pink or pinkish-purple.

Holly: You are probably right.

Cari: Well interestingly when I read the book to my daughter (5), she had the hiccups which only added to the hilarity of the rhymes.What did you like most about the book?

Holly: I liked how the illustrations and the story worked together. I should mention that my copy is getting a lot of use, Every day.

Cari: The rhyming surprised me a bit.

Holly: “There once was a hippopotamus, Who hiccuped quite-a-lotamus, And every time he got’emus. . .”

Cari: Definitely a great first stanza, a lot of the rhymes are not quite what you would expect in that they are created words more along the lines of Dr. Seuss type zaniness.

The Hippos I wanted to give my boys with the Hiccupotomus for Christmas
Holly got 3 of these hippos for her boys for Christmas- they would have been a perfect match to Hiccupotomus!

Holly: Yes. So when I first wanted the book I couldn’t  find it at any regular book stores because it was out of print. ARGH!!! I finally found a used copy on Amazon and I clicked to buy it and someone bought it before I could. The next copy was over $30.00 and that was out of my Christmas budget. I really wanted it as part of my Christmas book package, so it was a sad moment.

Cari: Not to mention I’m not sure the author would have made money off that sale. The book is a really cute book.

Holly: You can buy it new now on Amazon or in book stores as it is being re-released. I highly recommend buying it (unless of course you win our giveaway coming up soon). Check back September 12th for our interview with Aaron Zenz to enter!

Cari: One thing I appreciate about the book, is that as an adult it is fun to read.  It’s not like some kid books that make me want to stab my leg with a fork because it’s so boring. I especially liked the cast bios at the end of the book where it talked about each character like they were a real actor and even explained that they used doubles for some of the ‘stunts’.`

Holly: My older kids thought those were funny albeit confusing- they had no idea actors and actresses participated in book illustration. That was an interesting conversation. As proof that this book is very lovable I just thought I’d share that my littlest now gallops around the house shouting, “Hic! Hic! Hic!” Yes, imitation is the highest form of flattery!

Now for a trip down memory lane

Holly: So, I know someone who gets hiccups worse than the hiccupotomus.

Cari: Who?

Holly: Don’t play dumb with me.

Cari: Are you talking about me?

Holly: Yes.

Cari: (sigh) Okay, let’s tell the whole world. Cari gets really bad hiccups.

Holly: Not just hiccups. Your hiccups are, shall we say… difficult to describe.

Cari: One of my teachers once told me they were so loud it sounded like my stomach was going to come out of my mouth.

Holly: Or so loud they could wake the dead.

Cari: I’d like to see Aaron Zenz put that in a rhyme.

Holly: I don’t think it would make a very good children’s book.

Cari: You’re right. So, since we are on the vein of disclosing embarrassing personal facts, I’d like to hear that story of yours about hippos.

Holly: What story?

Cari: You know, the one from college. Does Freshman orientation ring a bell?

Holly: Oh, THAT story (cringe). Do I have to?

Cari: I could black mail you with that other story.

Holly: Well, since you put it that way . . . without further ado, here is the story. Ahem. So, at the beginning of second semester college, we had a lot of students leave and new students moved into the dorms. So, a big group of us got together to play some standard get-to-know you games. To this day I only remember one of them.

Cari: I’m sure you do.

Holly: We were all sitting in a circle and had to go around taking turns introducing ourselves. The rules were you could say your name and one word to describe you or help people to remember you.

Cari: And you wanted to make sure everyone would remember you, right?

Holly: Something like that.

Cari: I think that was it in a nutshell.

Holly: Excuse me, it’s my turn to talk. Do you want to hear the story or not?

Cari: Sorry. Go ahead.

Holly: So, the game was progressing at a very rapid pace and my turn was coming quickly. My palms started to get clammy and my heart rate increased. I was really nervous. Thoughts raced around in my head. One word that describe me? Argh! At that point, it was my turn to introduce myself.

Cari: And?

Holly: I said, “Hi my name is Holly, as in Holly Hippo.”

Cari: How did that go over?

Holly: There was dead silence for about half a second, and then the whole hall was filled with loud, uproarious, very long peels of laughter. I turned bright red from head to toe and sat down.

Cari: I bet you got quite a laugh.

Holly liked seeing these hippos at the Seattle Zoo last year

Holly: You bet I did. That was definitely embarrassing. Perhaps even more embarrassing was that the whole boy’s dorm had heard about it by morning and I was greeted by, “Hi Holly . . . Hippo (wink, wink)” all day as I walked to and from classes the next day, or week, it may have gone on as long as a month.

Cari: I can’t believe you did that.

Holly: Neither can I. I tried to forget. I have one friend, though, who still reminds me from time to time, even though it’s been awhile.

Cari: So should we put Holly Hippo as your name on bookscoops?

Holly: Just plain Holly is fine.

Cari: What were you thinking?

Holly: I don’t know . . . alliteration? Don’t we all reach for literary tools when we’re under pressure?

Cari: Um . . . I think you’re the only one, and now I will use my older sister powers and change your name to holly ‘hippo’ bookscoops.

Holly: Then I will change your name to CariCamelCrocodileCookiebookscoops.

Cari: Oh Yeah? Well how about happyhollyhippohelperbookscoops?

Holly: I think maybe we should make up a rhyme. I dedicate this verse to my sister Cari who, though older, is shorter.

There once was a Cari Camel

who Cried for Chocolate Cookies

Her sister said, “No. They don’t help you grow”

So, instead Cari read lots of bookies

Cari: I think maybe we better let Aaron be in charge of the rhyming.

Holly: What, you don’t like my rhyming? Why don’t you give it a try?

Cari: Okay,

There once was a hollypotomus

Who hiccupped quite a lotamus

And every time she gotemus,

She fell upon her bottomus

Holly: That was cheating.

Cari: But it sounds better than yours.

Holly: Yes, but it was still cheating.

Cari: Let’s call it a tie.

Holly: Hmm… Alliteration… Cari Cheater, Cheater Cari, darn it. It just doesn’t sound right.

Cari: Ha ha ha!

***Click on the title for details on entering the details of the Hiccupotamus giveaway and for the author interview with Aaron Zenz.****