After Hello Author Interview with Lisa Mangum!

Today I am featuring an interview with author Lisa Mangum here at Bookscoops. Lisa has written my top favorite time travel series, the Hourglass Door Trilogy. Please join us in celebrating her most recent novel, After Hello. Be sure to check out the links at the end of the interview for some fun opportunities!

I had the great pleasure of attending a lecture given by Lisa at the WIFYR conference this summer in Utah. I also met Lisa at the book signing and she is one awesome lady. If you ever need a hug- she’s a great hugger! Please join me in welcoming Lisa and getting a glimpse into how talented she is.

Holly with Lisa Mangum at WIFYR (sorry for the blurry cell phone picture)
Holly: Where did you get the idea for your book, After Hello? 

Lisa: It sounds cliché, but it came from a dream. I dreamed what eventually became the first scene in the book—the part where Sara sees Sam for the first time, takes his picture, and decides to follow him. The dream wandered into strange territory after that, as dreams often do, but when I woke up, I still remembered that moment of a first meeting, and the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was about who these two people were and what they were doing and what their relationship would be like.

Holly: You are so creative to be able to take a moment from a dream and turn it into a whole novel! After Hello is a contemporary novel whereas your trilogy was not. What were the main differences between writing a contemporary novel and writing your previous Time Travel Series? (Which I loved by the way!)

 Lisa: The biggest difference was that I couldn’t rely on a magical or paranormal solution to a problem! While I loved writing my time travel series (I have always loved the fantasy and sci-fi genres), I found writing contemporary fiction to be both refreshing and challenging. With a contemporary novel, I needed to make sure I kept my characters grounded in reality, facing real problems, and finding real solutions. I also found there was a certain immediacy I liked about writing contemporary fiction that wasn’t always present in the Hourglass Door series.

Holly: Will there be a sequel to After Hello?

Lisa:  I don’t have any plans right now to revisit the story of Sam and Sara. Without giving too much away, I wanted to leave the story a little open-ended so the reader could decide what happened next. After all, people often come in our lives only to stay for varying amounts of time, and that’s okay.

Holly: I think you are very good at sequels. There should be a sequel. I hereby call for a vote. All in favor say yes! Ahem. Oh yes, back to the interview… In After Hello, there is a lot of trading going on. What is the coolest trade you’ve ever made?

Lisa: I actually traded a copy of After Hello—plus a sugar packet—for a framed movie poster of the Avengers. I then traded the poster to my friend Heidi for a stack of fashion books and coloring books, which I then traded to my nieces in exchange for a bucket of Mr. Potato Head parts that I needed for a writing conference class I was teaching. Whew! If you want to join in the fun, visit and I’ll send you an official After Hello sugar packet that you can trade.

Holly: Sure…we totally believe you about the Mr. Potato Head :). Although, I must say I never saw any Mr. Potatoe Head parts during your presentation. You just wanted to have your own set, right? j/k. When you aren’t busy with Mr. Potato Head, what project are you working on now?

Lisa: I actually have another contemporary YA novel in mind: Just June. My elevator pitch goes something like this: “May and June are as close as identical twin sisters can be. So when May commits suicide, June is left with one question: Why hadn’t she known her sister was in trouble?” I want to explore the issue of sisterhood and identity, secrets and trust. It’s kind of a scary topic for me, but exciting as well.

Cari with Lisa Mangum at WIFYR
 That does sound like a scary topic to address. It will be interesting to see how it goes. Speaking of scary and exciting things, tell us a little about your path to publication—how long did you work at becoming published before it actually happened?

Lisa: My path to publication took a decade-long detour through the editing world. Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. I loved everything about books, but somewhere in my teen years, that horrible voice of self-doubt convinced me that I didn’t have anything worthwhile to say, that writing was a dream that other people had. So, I’m sad to say, I shelved that dream for a number of years. But I still loved books, so I looked into the possibility of becoming an editor. I graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in English and almost immediately was able to start work as an Editorial Assistant in a publishing house. I loved it! And it wasn’t until 2007 or 2008 before I turned my attention back to writing. When I got the idea for The Hourglass Door, it was like the floodgates opened, and all those dreams I had as a child came rushing back. I finished the draft in about 8 months and submitted it to Shadow Mountain. They said yes, and about a year later, the book was on the shelf, ready to be read. It was a whirlwind process. I haven’t looked back since.

Holly: Well, you are quite a few steps ahead of me, that’s for sure. When I got that little voice of self-doubt I went and got a degree in Business. At least you stayed in the same general field! I always kept the love of books alive though. At Bookscoops we talk a lot about memories with books. What are some memories you have of reading as a young child?

Lisa: My first book-related memory is of me—maybe only 3 or 4—taking a copy of The Secret Garden to my mom and asking her to read it to me. We curled up in the big green rocking chair and she read the entire book to me. It’s still one of my favorites. I remember discovering Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen and crying my eyes out at the end of book two. (I also wrote her a letter, which she answered! And which I still have to this day.) I remember scouring the libraries for the sequel to The Three Musketeers. I remember one birthday where I wished to spend the whole day in the bookstore; Mom and Dad bought me ten books that day. (Happy birthday, indeed!)

Holly: I love the Secret Garden too! The Three Musketeers I didn’t read until I was in 9th grade French. I wasn’t super fluent (I’m still not) so my appreciation and understanding of that great piece of writing was spotty at best. On another note, I love your birthday memory! I’ve never heard of celebrating a birthday at the bookstore. Wouldn’t it be great if they had party rooms at bookstores? Maybe that’s what I’ll ask for on my next birthday. (Not the party room- the whole day at the bookstore, and ten books. Minimum.)
Thanks for the interview Lisa! It was great to hear more about you. Now, dear readers, please go check out Lisa Mangum’s new book, After Hello. And check out the sugar packet trading site We all have some serious trading to do!
After Hello by Lisa Mangum

Author Interview: Jean Reagan

I am thrilled to host author Jean Reagan, whose book Always My Brother deals with sibling death. I thought this interview would be fitting for Memorial Day as many of our thoughts turned to our loved ones who have past on. I hope you enjoy getting to know Jean as much as I have she has a wonderful personality, fascinating life (she’s lived in Japan and spends the summer in the wilderness) and a sense of humor all the while taking on a topic that is just plain hard. In her own words, “I wanted to honor siblings for the devastating loss they face and to offer them realistic hope.” I am also looking forward to reading her new book, How to Babysit a Grandpa. Thank you Jean for spending a little time at Bookscoops!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself so people can get to know you.

I was born in Alabama, but I lived most of my childhood in Japan.  So as you might expect, anything Japanese intrigues me still.  (especially Japanese food!)

For the past ten years, every summer my husband and I move to a tiny patrol cabin in Grand Tetons National Park’s backcountry where we serve as wilderness volunteers.   The cabin has no running water or electricity, and there are bars on the windows to keep out bears.  We love being surrounded by nature.  We also love meeting hikers and campers from all over the world.

As I hike or canoe, I keep my eyes and ears open for wildlife and for story ideas.  You never know what you might encounter around the bend!

2. Death of a family member is such a hard subject to write about tell us why you chose sibling death for your first book?

In 2005, after a roller-coaster year of hopes and setbacks, our nineteen-year old son, John, died of a drug overdose, leaving our seventeen-year old daughter, Jane, as an only child.   As we faced our grief, I watched how the death of a sibling is discounted.  People offered me (and my husband) comfort, but rarely seemed to acknowledge Jane’s tragic loss.

Through research I learned that sibling death is often considered the unrecognized grief.  Surviving siblings are sometimes even admonished to be “extra good,” because their parents are grieving.  In ALWAYS MY BROTHER I wanted to honor siblings for the devastating loss they face and to offer them realistic hope.

Because ALWAYS MY BROTHER is a picture book aimed at a young audience, it does not mirror our own family story.  For example, I made the characters much younger.  Yet the book taps into the emotions and experiences of our loss.  For example, I made sure to include a returning-to-school scene, because that is a particularly tough step for grieving children.

3. What books did you like reading as a child?

I LOVED being read to, but learning to read didn’t come easy to me.  I still remember my excitement when finally in third grade I actually enjoyed reading a book, SMILING HILL FARM.  It felt magical.

Some of the picture books I loved were anything by Dr. Seuss, MILLIONS OF CATS, and THE GOOPS.  I read a lot of Japanese comic books, too!

4. What tips do you have for aspiring authors?

Read, read, read, especially the genre you want to write. Join a critic group. Enter writing contests to create deadlines for yourself and to find encouragement along the road to publication. If your writing genre is picture books, join us for the annual Picture Book Marathon in February.  Last year we had over four hundred participants from all over the world.  There is no cost.  The website is

5. As a parent and author what are some of your favorite tips to encourage children to read?

Regularly get piles and piles of books from the library.  (Why don’t libraries have shopping carts?) We did without a TV for about seven years when our kids were young.  It meant our house was never tidy, but we sure did read a lot.

But even with all this family-reading time, our son struggled to learn to read.  I had a lot of empathy, because of my similar struggle.  Eventually he found the magic by pouring through the CALVIN AND HOBBS books.

6. What are your current writing projects?

Spring of 2012 my next picture book, HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA, will be published by Knopf.  I’m thrilled to send a purely happy, silly book into the world.  Several weeks ago I saw Lee Wildish’s illustrations for it.  His artwork is fabulously quirky.  Perfect!

I’m in the early stages of two other stories:  one about an outing to a park with a father and young toddler, and another one about a new sibling.  I find picture books so tricky to write, requiring countless number of revisions.  My critique partners definitely keep me going with their insights, humor, and encouragement.

For more about me, my writing process, my grief journey, or my summer life, please visit

Book Giveaway and Author Interview Nature Squad Bluebird Finds a Home by Ryan Jacobson, illustrated by Joel Seibel

It’s Earth Day!!!

In celebration of Earth Day 2011, Holly is pleased to host Joel Seibel, the illustrator of Nature Squad’s new book: Bluebird Finds a Home

In conjunction with our interview below, we are facilitating a giveaway of #1- a signed illustration by Joel Seibel, and #2- a copy of Bluebird Finds a Home signed by author Ryan Jacobson. To enter the giveaway, please see the instructions at the end of our interview.

Welcome to Bookscoops Joel! Please tell us a little about yourself so our readers can get to know you?

I was raised in Burbank, California, and I lived just a few miles from Disney Studios, which is where I started my career at the age of 19. Four years later, I found myself at Hanna-Barbera, where I stayed for 28 years, working on shows like Tom & Jerry, Scooby Doo and the Smurfs. My wife, Ellen, and I moved to Minnesota in 1982, and I started working for Warner Brothers Studio. In 1996, I received a primetime Emmy Award for designing the Pinky & the Brain Christmas Special. I still work on shows like Angelina Ballerina and obviously have begun illustrating books too. My career has been very full and blessed.

We are big fans of Tom &Jerry and the Smurfs at our house! Scooby Doo fits in the mix as long as it’s not too scary. My 4yo actually handles Scooby better than his big brothers sometimes. Speaking of cartoons, what are some of the commonalities and differences between animation and illustration?

The big commonality is that you’re sketching and drawing for both—but animation moves. You have time to get across an action or what you want to happen. In illustration, one drawing has to tell the whole story. It’s a lot more difficult to make sure you have the right depiction of the right moment in that drawing. In Nature Squad, there could have been any number of 40 or 50 drawings for each page. We ended up with one specific drawing that told the story best. That’s the difference. Sometimes that can be harder than drawing several pictures. But it’s nice to be able to do just one and move on, which is a real breath of fresh air when you’re used to drawing the same things over and over again.

I had never thought about animation as being tedious before, but I could see how doing the same things repeatedly could be that way. Did you run into any difficulties illustrating the Nature Squad? If not, what has been your most challenging illustrating/animating dilemma?

You run into difficulties on everything when you’re illustrating. Where do you start? On each page, how much and how little do you need to do? You can overdraw and you can underdraw. I try to eliminate dilemmas by doing thumbnail sketches. I do rough, tiny sketches of each page and go back and forth with the publisher and author until we know exactly what we want. I make sure we eliminate potential problems before I really get to work.

An animating dilemma? One time, they had me doing a guy on Flintstone Kids, and he was pounding on a drum and dancing at the same time. The dance had a different beat than the drum beat. Now, you only have so much you can do and only so much time to do it, and it was really difficult figuring out how to do that. By the time I was done with it, I didn’t like it. I told the director, “I don’t think I can do this.” They gave it to some old pro who had been animating for a lot of years, and I don’t know if he did it or not. But it was awful, and I still remember the horrors of that from 35 years ago!

Ah! I know just what you mean. A long time ago, in my nerdy high school days, I played the cymbals in marching band. There’s nothing like having to put your foot down to march, while at the same time having to only play on the up-beat! I don’t know if I ever got it right. I’m sure that trying to animate something like that would be incredibly difficult! Speaking of difficulties- if you had to choose . . .who is your favorite illustrator and why?

I love the old Dr. Seuss books. I love his characters. I love the wackiness, the hair, the outfits, the shoes. Everything about them was really designed great. It’s like he said, “There are going to be parents reading these books to kids over and over again, so I want the parents to enjoy them too.” I love that he did his own stuff. No one was telling him what to draw, so he had a freedom to do what he wanted, and it really comes through in the illustrations.

Dr. Seuss truly was a genius with rhyme and whimsical illustrations. We read his books often here. In fact  just a few weeks ago my 4yo drank too much soda and was sick sick sick! The ABC book was my favorite as a child. What is one of your favorite memories of reading as a child?

You’re going to love this: I have none. I have no memories of reading anything as a child. I couldn’t read. I found out much later in life that I have dyslexia, so every time I tried to read, words and letters on the page would go goofy. To this day, I can read half a page and can’t tell you what I’ve just read. I can’t retain it. I wasn’t ever really taught to read. Back then, if you didn’t know how to read, it was your tough luck. It was such a chore for me that I would never elect to do that. My mom did my book reports. I can honestly say, I’m now 68 years old, and I’ve never read a book. I have to wait for the movie! For some reason, the only book I’ve ever been able to read and retain has been the Bible.

I am always so impressed to learn about the obstacles surmounted by those with learning disabilities. I have a brother who is dyslexic and I remember tutoring him in reading. It was very frustrating for both of us. He has gone on to accomplish amazing things and has one of the most incredible memories for oral language I have ever known not to mention his amazing negotiating skills.  Mo Willems is another dyslexic author/illustrator we greatly admire here at bookscoops! 

What do you enjoy most about being an illustrator and what is your favorite medium to work in?

I love working at home, and I have now for over 30 years. I’ve been able to make my own office, and I’ve been my own worst boss. I work myself to death. I live in Minnesota, so I have a slower, easier pace. It’s a really neat life. It’s very calm compared to the hairy lifestyle of a place like L.A. Unfortunately, I’m still on a California deadline, which can get crazy. But at least I get to do it how I want. I’m fortunate to have gotten to a place in my career where I can work without the need for someone to look over my shoulder.

My favorite medium came from being in the design department at Hanna-Barbera Studios. We did all of our presentations and design work in ink and magic markers. The stuff was so sharp. It looked really good. I started combining magic markers with colored pencils. I found out later on that every time I’d do that, it would never look the same when it was printed. I wasn’t able to match printer capabilities—I was using too many colors. So I started messing with colorizing on the computer. That’s what I do now. I’ve learned over the years to get a certain look and a certain feel that way. I draw in pencil, ink over that with pens, and then scan and color them on the computer.

I understand that printing art work for books is difficult because of the loss of certain elements. Printing has come a long way from what it used to be though! It would be great to have the capability of gallery quality printings in our literature, but I suppose that art galleries aren’t going to go out of business anytime soon. However, we may see leaps and bounds with digital books becoming so popular!

What advice do you have for aspiring illustrators and/or animators?

For animators, the key is really to get a good education. Back when I started in 1963, I had dreams of being the next Walt Disney. I could go into the studios and get all sorts of on-the-job training. I couldn’t have afforded to go to a really good animation college. But those days have come and gone. Nowadays, animation is a huge thing. It’s an extremely hard industry. There aren’t any studios that are going to take you and teach you how to do it. So if you want to be an animator, go to a cheap college and learn all of the basics for a couple years. Then find yourself a really good animation college. When you come out, you have to be ready. But find out who the instructors know. If you can’t get a good letter of recommendation to a few studios, you shouldn’t be wasting your money at that school. On the other hand, illustration is different. Schooling is important, but it isn’t quite as essential if you draw well. You just need a good portfolio, and you need to get it out there. And you can always illustrate your own book too.

Thanks for the educational tips! What’s next for you? What other projects do you have in the works?

I’m starting work on my own children’s book. I’m hoping to do another Nature Squad soon. I just finished up an Angelina Ballerina, so I’m expecting a call from a studio with a few new animation assignments. I’m also thrilled to be doing a children’s book about a brother and a sister who are excited because Jesus is coming to town. Basically, it’s about what they go through to meet him and what they think about it after they do.

It sounds like you don’t lack for things to do! It’s been fun and informative getting to know you. Thanks for the opportunity to host your book tour!

My pleasure, thank you!

Giveaway Details:

Giveaway #1- an original, signed illustration by Joel Seibel (similar to the one in the interview!)

Giveaway #2- a copy of Nature Squad: Bluebird Finds a Home, signed by author Ryan Jacobson.

To enter the giveaway, please comment on which giveaway you would like to win (or both), and why. For additional entries you may also:

1-comment on your favorite part of the interview, one entry per comment per item.

2- Share your ideas about Earth Day and how you plan to celebrate

3- Link to this interview and/or our book review

4- Tweet about our giveaway and leave a comment to tell us

5- Post about our giveaway on Facebook and leave a comment to tell us.

Bookscoop’s giveaway is limited to the continental United States only. The winner will be randomly chosen and notified shortly after the close of the giveaway. The giveaway will close at midnight, MST, Saturday, April 30, 2011.

A True Princess by Diane Zahler


Review of A True Princess

I have just returned spell-bound from Diane Zahler’s new novel A True Princess. Such beautiful stories are often described as enchanting, but I am seeking for a word more rich and lovely. Mesmerized. I have been mesmerized by the Elf King and have shivered in fear as Odin and his deadly hunters thundered through Bitra forest. Zahler has proven herself a master weaver of retold fairy tales. Her stories are truly magical, deeply engaging, and surprisingly full of twists and elements of heroism- or rather, ‘heroine-ism’. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, based on the oft told Princess and the pea, yet full of more than pitiful princess wanna-bes standing in line to prove their pedigree.

Lilia is a shepherdess living off the kindness of the family who rescued her as a baby from a basket in a river. Rather Moses-like, I know, but strangely satisfactory. Initially, I was thinking Unsinkable Molly Brown meets Moses, both lovable stories, but I was pleased to find something or, rather someone even more enchanting. Lilia has beautiful dark hair and violet eyes, which is perfect because I have become a little weary of trite heroines with blonde or chestnut locks and blue or green eyes. Lilia’s classic beauty makes for beautiful cover art and the book is just as visually appealing on the outside as it is satisfying inside.

Kudos to Harper Collins for uncovering yet another outstanding story weaver. Thank you to Ms. Zahler and her publicist for the ARC! I look forward to the release of A True Princess February 1, 2011. Perfect timing for Valentine’s presents and Easter baskets! Readers can look forward to a spell-binding read. Zahler’s second novel does not disappoint!

Come back and visit us soon, as we here at Bookscoops are participating in Diane Zahler’s Blog Tour in conjunction with the release of  A True Princess. We will have an author interview and Book Giveaway, courtesy of Harper Collins, on February 12th 2011!  Don’t miss this great opportunity to get an inside look at Diane Zahler and enter for a chance to win a hard-bound copy of her wonderful book! Mark your calendars for Saturday February 12th- only two weeks away!

Announcing the winner of I Need My Monster giveaway!

I Need My MonsterThank you to all who participated in our author interview and giveaway of I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll. We hope you all take the opportunity to read I Need My Monster soon if you haven’t already, it’s such a fun read!

After entering all the names in the giveaway, and randomly selecting our winner, we are pleased to announce that the winner is Wendy! Wendy, we hope you will enjoy your copy of I Need My Monster.

Our giveaway contest has now officially ended. The comments will remain open, so please feel free to continue commenting, but you won’t be able to enter the giveaway any longer.

Author Interview with Amanda Noll and Book Giveaway!

Author Photo compressed 2

I Need My Monster

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

I was born and raised in Australia. I immigrated (with my family) to the U.S. when I was a teenager. I met my husband while we were in university, but we were attending different schools.

I started writing when I was forced to sit at a desk all day long, whether there was work or not. I was so bored that I started writing stories to entertain myself.

I currently live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband and four young children.

Wow! A desk job where you have time to sit and make up stories and get paid for it? I bet there are a lot of authors out there who would love to have that job. Where did you get your inspiration for I Need My Monster?

It started one night when my 3 year old daughter was out of bed *again*. I was exhausted. Our youngest child wasn’t even 1 year old and all I wanted was an uninterrupted night of sleep. I wished that my daughter (who was afraid of everything) would be afraid of monsters, and then she would stay in bed. It wasn’t my finest parenting moment.

I’m with you on wishing for schemes to keep kids in bed at night. Thanks, by the way for taking some of the work out of that endeavor with your book, it sure has helped at our house! What is your favorite part of I Need My Monster and did you run into any difficulties in writing the story?

My favorite part is the page where Ethan imagines all the scary things that could happen. My biggest problem was finding a resolution that wasn’t too scary, but still authentic.

I think you succeeded! Speaking of success, who is your favorite author and why?

I read lots of authors, but I always come back to Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, and (most recently) Suzanne Collins.

I love reading about dragons and high adventure with girl heroes.

Oh, I love reading about dragons and high adventure too. What do you enjoy most about being a published author?

It is very gratifying to hold a finished book in your hands. Plus, students think I’m a rock star when I do school visits.

How fun! I love when kids have a real-life hero to look up to, and in my book, authors definitely rate higher than rock stars. What was the path to publication (and thereby rock-star-fame) like?

Like most people’s, it was long and bumpy. I wrote the story in 2005, started submitting it at the end of 2005 – mid 2006. Flashlight Press was one of the first houses I submitted to. They held it in consideration for a year before we started talking about contracts and revisions. There were *many* revisions. The book finally came to fruition in April of 2009.

So, four years of bumpy roads. . . sounds like a lot of fun, er. . . hard work. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Keep writing. Keep reading. Don’t make excuses about why you’re not writing, go write something. Get a good critique/support system to see you through.

What’s next for you? Do you have another book in the works?

Of course! Right now I’m working on a middle grade ghost story.

Spooky! Ghost stories are one of Cari’s specialties. She was really good at scaring us all with her ghost tales growing up, many of which she found in middle grade books. I, however, liked decorating cakes and noticed the Monster cakes and Monster toes featured on your and your publisher’s websites. They sound very intriguing, not to mention yummy. How did you come up with these creations, and will you share any secrets with us like, oh, possibly a monster recipe?

I wish I could take credit for the recipe, but I can’t. They’re adaptations of a Martha Stewart recipe for Cupcake Pops found here:

Of course I changed it to toes and added the pretzel stick and jellybean toe nail.

Thanks for the pointer in the right direction. And now, last but not least, at Bookscoops we like to talk about our childhood memories with the books we review, especially for our Double Scoop feature. So, in keeping with ‘tradition’, what is your favorite childhood memory involving reading?

My best memory is when I discovered the joy of reading. I was a proficient reader, but I had never been lost in a book. I was assigned to read Dragon Song by Anne McCaffrey for an English class. I had never read anything like it! I loved being able to lose myself in a totally different world. It wasn’t long before I began devouring anything I could get my hands on.

Thanks Amanda, for sharing with us! For more information about I Need My Monster check out the following websites:

Publisher website

Author Amanda Noll’s website

Illustrator Howard McWilliam

Book Giveaway details:

Amanda has provide one hardbound copy of I Need My Monster, which I will mail to the winner of our giveaway. The giveaway will end midnight MST,  Monday, October 19, 2009. You can enter by commenting on what you liked about the author interview or your favorite monster memory either on this post or on my review of I Need My Monster.  Please note: only one entry per person, and I will happily ship the book to any winner within the continental United States. Thanks and happy commenting!

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.*******

Author Interview with Janet Halfmann and Book Giveaway!

janet_halffman_for_realHolly and I thrilled to present our first author interview with Janet Halfmann. She is wonderful to work with and is passionate about nature and animals, which shows in her writing. Her specialty is nonfiction and her first fiction book is Little Skink’s Tail, which has been winning several awards and is very popular in our house. Janet was also generous enough to give us an autographed copy of her two most recently published books – Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story and Little Skink’s Tail for a book giveaway. I have to tell you it’s real tempting to keep them and they will be parted with reluctantly.

Tell us a little about yourself so that people can get to know you better.

I’ve loved to write since I was a child, but didn’t really think about writing as a career until after I got my first college degree (in English and Spanish Education). When our children were young, I sold a few articles to magazines such as Ranger Rick and Jack and Jill. But I wanted to make a living writing, so I returned to college and got a second degree in journalism. That led to careers as a daily newspaper reporter in Wichita, Kansas, managing editor of Country Kids magazine based in Wisconsin, and many years as a creator of coloring and activity books (Mickey Mouse, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Batman, etc.) for Golden Books, also in Wisconsin. When a new owner moved all of Golden Books’ operations to New York City in 1997 and my coworkers and I in Wisconsin lost our jobs, I struck out on my own as a freelance children’s writer.

Where did you get the idea for Little Skink’s Tail?

I got the idea to do a story about a young skink while researching a nonfiction book I wrote about all kinds of lizards. I was amazed by how many kinds of lizards can snap off their tails as a defense-and the tails keep right on wiggling to distract the enemy. I was especially fascinated by young skinks, which often have bright blue tails.

So I knew the beginning and end of the story-that Little Skink would lose her tail and that eventually it would grow back-but I didn’t know what would happen in the middle. As I sat at my computer, I thought about how my four children and now my four grandchildren love to play dress-up and pretend. So I decided to have Little Skink do the same thing-trying on the tails of all the other animals in the forest. As I wrote the story, I pictured my granddaughter dancing about, showing off each tail.

A favorite part of writing the book was figuring out the fun thing Little Skink would say about each tail, such as too puffy-fluffy or too stickly-prickly. I’ve always loved language and I enjoy finding just the right word.

I wrote the book mostly for fun, but am proud that the story evolved on its own to encourage children to be comfortable with themselves as they are, which has made Little Skink’s Tail very popular for teaching character education.

Reading Little Skink's Tail at Barnes & Noble, the girl in bunny tail is Janet's Great Niece
Reading Little Skink's Tail at Barnes & Noble, the girl in bunny tail is Janet's Great Niece

You have written several nonfiction books and Little Skink’s Tail was your first fiction book. What are some of the differences between writing nonfiction and fiction books?

When writing fiction, I can make up things, so I can use more of my imagination. In some ways, writing fiction is more fun because I don’t have to be tied to the facts.

Little Skink’s Tail is fiction, but in many ways it is a combination of fiction and nonfiction. Everything in the story except the tail daydreaming is grounded in fact-the habitat, the prey-predator relationships, the animals’ uses of their tails, etc., are all scientifically accurate.

My latest nonfiction book, Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story, is nonfiction and completely adheres to the facts, but several reviewers have said it reads like fiction.

Tell us about your first published book.

My first published books were four titles in a Bugs series for The Creative Company in Mankato, Minnesota. Writing these books was a big break for me because it allowed me to get my foot in the publishing door and also gave me the confidence that I could indeed be an author. I visited the company for an informational interview before I decided to strike out on my own. The company didn’t have a job opening, but liked my writing. So when I decided to become a full-time freelance writer, the company gave me the opportunity to write four bug books, and a children’s author was born!.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Read lots of children’s books, especially the kind you want to write. Then write, write, write, and revise, revise, revise until every word shines. When the manuscript is the best that it can be, study publishers to see who does that kind of book and send it out. Then, forget about it and move on to a new project (Most writers have a huge file of rejection letters).

I also strongly advise joining writers groups, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and its regional chapters, and attending their conferences and workshops. Our SCBWI group in Wisconsin has a listserv where writers of all experience levels ask questions and share information. There is so much to be learned from the experiences of other writers.

Sometimes writing opportunities come about in strange ways. For example, about nine years ago I found the nature books published by Soundprints at my local library and fell in love with them. So I spent months writing the very best manuscript I could about an animal not yet in their line. The company didn’t buy that manuscript, but months later when a writer dropped the ball on an assignment and the company needed a new manuscript fast on the brown pelican, the editor called me to write it. Now, I’ve written nine books for Soundprints-seven already published and two to release soon.

Tell us about some of your books that will be published soon and is it true that your daughter is doing the illustrations for one of your new books?

As I mentioned earlier, I have two nonfiction picture books coming out soon from Soundprints, which publishes nature books in association with the Smithsonian Institution. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is about the adventures of a narwhal, an Arctic whale that has a nine-foot-long tooth jutting out from its jaw. Little Black Ant on Park Street features the life of the typical picnic ant. Plush animals and audio also are available with these books, and everything has to be approved by curators at the Smithsonian Institution.

Good Night, Little Sea Otter, a bedtime fiction story, will release this fall from Star Bright Books. Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish will come out in 2010 from Henry Holt. On a recent visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, I got to see the animals featured in both of these books, which was a tremendous thrill for me!

Janet and daughter Laura
Janet and daughter Laura

And yes, my daughter, Laura, is illustrating two of my future books. Both are with Orchard House Press. Usually, the publisher chooses the illustrator. But in this case, the publisher needed more illustrators, so Laura submitted a sample drawing. The publisher loved it and wanted her to illustrate both of the books that I had under contract. Laura is an artist, but this is her first illustrating job, so she is more than a bit nervous. But I know both books will be terrific! And it will be so much fun doing book events together!

The first book is a picture book titled Bewitching the Chickadees. It is about a young girl, her grandma, a special bird feeder, and chickadees. Laura  used a friend’s daughter and her grandma as the models and the sketches I’ve seen so far are fabulous! The second, Sunflower Princess, is a chapter book for ages 7-9. My granddaughter is the model for these illustrations, so she’s extra excited about this book. Release dates have not yet been set.

Why do you have animals/nature as the focus of so much of your writing?

I have loved animals and nature since I was a child. I grew up on a farm in Michigan and spent most of my time outdoors. I loved playing with the barn cats, exploring our small woods, and listening to the crickets on the back porch at night. My dad was what I call a farmer’s farmer. He loved animals and the land and that love rubbed off on me. I spent hours with my mother working in our big garden. Today, I am an avid gardener and love exploring nature. The wonders of the lives of animals and plants never cease to amaze me! On our recent visit to California, we found hundreds of hermit crabs in little pools among the rocks on the ocean shore. I could have watched them forever! They were fighting with one another and everything, just like in my hermit crab book for Soundprints. Thank goodness, my son captured them on video!

Holly’s children really like nonfiction books, but not all children like nonfiction. Reading nonfiction is part of a balanced reading diet. Do you have any recommendations for parents and teachers for encouraging children to read nonfiction?

I think you can encourage children to read nonfiction by finding books  that match their interests. For example, our five-year-old grandson is fascinated with sharks, but isn’t one to sit still often to listen to a book. But when my daughter dug out her beloved nonfiction book on sharks from her childhood, our grandson couldn’t get enough.

You also can select nonfiction books that read like a story. The animal books that I write for Soundprints are nonfiction, but read like a story. They feature a specific animal that has a problem and solves it. And as I mentioned earlier, some reviewers have said Seven Miles to Freedom reads like a story, even though it is nonfiction.

Book giveaway details!

Thank you Janet for your time and sharing your story with us. We enjoyed learning about your writing career and especially liked learning about your daughter Laura Halfmann. What a neat opportunity to work together on something you both love and I bet your granddaughter is thrilled to be a model for some of the illustrations. What wonderful memories you are creating.

As previously mention we will be holding a book give away. We have one autographed copy of Seven Miles to Freedom and one autographed copy of Little Skink’s Tail to go to two lucky winners. Sorry you can’t win both. The giveaway is open to continental U.S. residents only. Each book has received several awards listed below, click on the book’s title to read my review of each one.

sevenmilestofreedomSeven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story (Lee & Low Books, 2008, illustrated by Duane Smith)

  • Starred Review: Kirkus Reviews
  • Honor Book: Society of School Librarians International
  • Editor’s Favorites: The Bloomsbury Review
  • Land of Enchantment Masterlist: New Mexico Library Association

littleskinkstailLittle Skink’s Tail (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2007, illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein)

  • Mom’s Choice Awards: Best Children’s Book for 2009 (1 of 3), plus Gold Medals: Educators’ Choice & Animal Kingdom
  • 2009 Teachers’ Choice Award: Learning Magazine
  • 2008 Best Overall Book and Best Picture Book: Florida Publishers Association)

I have also reviewed two of her books that are part of the Smithsonian Oceanic Collection published by Soundprints. Each book comes with a plush toy and has audio available as well. Excellent books for teaching about nature and appreciating nature. Again click on the titles to see my reviews Dolphin’s Rescue and Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea.

*****The Giveaway has officially ended, all comments/entries made after Monday April 6th midnight MST are not eligible to win. Comments are still open and welcome  (because well we like to hear from our readers)***********

Seven ways to enter the Giveaway – Yes that’s seven ways!

  1. Share your favorite animal book or personal story with an animal in a comment – 1 entry
  2. Write a comment about something Janet said in her interview – 1 entry
  3. Write a post about this interview and giveaway and link back to our blog, then come tell us in a comment – 3 entries
  4. Write a suggestion for encouraging children to read nonfiction books – 1 entry
  5. Comment on your favorite family co-authors or author/illustrator teams in honor of Janet and Laura Halfmann – 2 entries
  6. Subscribe to Bookscoops  in a feed reader and then come tell us in a comment – 2 entries
  7. See the reviews of Dolphin’s Rescue and Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea and for each comment related to the book you receive – 1 entry.

The giveaway ends on Monday, April 6th at midnight, Mountain Standard time. The first person to win will get their choice of Seven Miles to Freedom or Little Skink’s Tail and the second winner will get the other book.

*****The Giveaway has officially ended, all comments/entries made after Monday April 6th midnight MST are not eligible to win. Comments are still open and welcome (because well we like to hear from our readers ***********