Jules: This is from one of Aaron Zenz’s stories-looking-for-a-home, and I hope it settles down in just the right place one day, because I’d like to know more about these characters. How ’bout you?
And this below is the cover art for Aaron’s latest picture book title, The Hiccupotamus, which I’m here to tell you is a hoot, a powerful good hoot, to read aloud to your children or, shoot, the nearest children you can find:
And every time he got’emus . . . He’d fall upon his bottomus.”
Actually, I say that it’s Aaron’s “latest” title, but…
“The Hiccupotamus,” Aaron (pictured here with his family) told me, “was first released in 2005 by an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny publisher that went out of business a year later. It was as close to being self-published as you can get without technically being so. The company consisted of four guys holed up in the corner of an old abandoned warehouse. Three guys were co-owners of the venture, and I was the sole employee. We cranked out lots of great stickers, activity books, and card games. The Hiccupotamus was the only trade book ever released. It was produced primarily during my off-hours, and—although the book did really well—I never received a cent of compensation for its writing, never saw any royalties. But it was a joy to make and I loved the guys I was working with.
Fast forward to September 2009—hello!—and now it’s been picked up by Marshall Cavendish for re-release! I’m so happy that many more people will have a chance to be introduced to this gang of innocent, hapless, ill-fated characters.”
Yes, this accursed hippo has the hiccups, and these hiccups are quite dramatic, indeed, and bring about a lot of old-school, laugh-outloud, slapstick visual humor in this title. As well as spot-on rhymes, all hyper-outrageous, that could be flat-out disastrous in the hands of someone less skilled, but Zenz pulls it off with style. This right here is a giggle-inducer is what it is. But it doesn’t go for cheap laughs; it goes for that loud kind of Three-Stooges visual humor, what with all the hapless victims of the hippo’s extravagant hiccups. You have a preschool story time hour, by chance? Here’s the book for you. (Or, as Betsy Bird wrote in her review, “What it is…is a lot of fun and a particularly good readaloud. I don’t tend to say this very often, but if you wanted to read this book to a large group of second graders, you could do so with the greatest of ease. It just rolls off the tongue.”)
And here are some more of Aaron’s colored-pencilled illustrations from it:
His string went all criss-crosserous . . .”
“My medium-of-choice is colored pencil,” Aaron explained, “and I’ve been using them since my youth. Often folks are shocked to find out they are looking at colored pencil art. That’s because I misuse and abuse the medium. As a kid, I took to colored pencils (Prismacolors — nothing like them!) because they were a small step away from crayon (Crayola — nothing like them!). But I loved the look of pastels and oils, although I didn’t know a thing about either. So, as a wide-eyed, clueless lad, I simply forced and twisted and battered the colored pencils until I got results I liked, hence developing a style and method of my own.
Usually artists choose colored pencil because of the unique qualities of the medium: sketchiness, lightness of touch, the ability to reveal a paper’s grain, etc. But I press super hard on the pencil until not a smidge of paper shows through. Extreme pressure results in solid, dense layers …and hundreds of broken pencil tips. While making The Hiccupotamus, I went through 119 pencils (from new to stub) and broke 251 pencil tips along the way.
My college professors were wonderful (Hillsdale College in Michigan). They humored me and gave chances to explore colored pencils and develop my skills. In particular, I remember a portraiture class where all the students were gathered around easels painting away, and there I was in the midst of them with my colored pencils, frantically scribbling like the dickens.
I say colored pencil is my ‘medium-of-choice,’ but I also do a lot of work digitally. It all depends of the project. Cars and race tracks are far more geometric than chubby naked hippos, so the computer was the natural tool to use for the two Nascar books I illustrated. Other times, tight deadlines and the need for speed will necessitate digital art.”
written by Paul DuBois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender
“In the years following Hic’s first release,” Aaron said, “I’ve had the extreme pleasure of illustrating other wonderful picture books. My tenth book, Nugget on the Flightdeck, written by Patricia Newman, happens to be released this very month as well. I love the fact that a realistic look at life aboard an aircraft carrier can be oddly coupled alongside a hiccupping purple hippo. Where else than in the world of children’s literature?!?!!”
and written by Patricia Newman (colored pencil)
“What else is up with me? I’ve got many other stories I’ve authored that are looking for happy homes. And last year the whole Zenz family jumped into the kidlitosphere with our blog Bookie Woogie, where the kids and I are having fun and meeting lots of new friends.”
Speaking of Aaron’s children, if you take the time to read this and take in the visuals, you won’t be disappointed.
And here, to end our visit with Aaron, are five more images from stories-looking-for-a-home. (The art is digital.)
Many thanks to Aaron for stopping by! If you want to see even more of his art, don’t forget his web site and this one, as well. Aaron also has embarked on an official blog tour, and here’s the scoop—and all the stops—if you want to read more.
As a reminder, 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is our weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
THE HICCUPOTAMUS by Aaron Zenz. First published in 2005 by Dogs in Hats Children’s Publishing. Copyright © 2009 edition published by Marshall Cavendish, Tarrytown, NY. Images reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
NUGGET ON THE FLIGHT DECK. Text copyright © 2009 by Patricia Newman. Illustrations copyright © 2009 by Aaron Zenz. Published by Walker Books. Images reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.
All other images courtesy of Aaron Zenz.
1). I finally got to hear Elbow’s latest CD, since I decided to purchase it as a birthday gift for my husband. (Remember the video I posted in these kicks?) And it’s mighty, mighty good music, my friends.
2). Hey, said husband and I also saw Inglourious Basterds. I didn’t know what to expect, but I liked it. Muchly. And when Aldo “the Apache” Raine (you gotta click on that link) said he was from Maynardville, Tennessee, I nearly hooted.
3). This is a former colleague of mine, interpreting at Bonnaroo. No matter what you think of the music (Snoop Dogg), what this interpreter is doing here is a major, major FEAT. This is an ASL interpretation, and I can promise you this took a lot of work. Just keeping UP is a feat:
4). Okay, one more video: We librarians have our own dance now, thanks to author Tammi Sauer:
5). New Books: Bear and one small, grey, and bright-eyed mouse are back! Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants is good, thus far. And so is Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant (“It is important that you say what you mean to say. Time is too short. You must speak words that matter.” I like that.) More on all these books later. Probably.
6). So, this was odd, but one of my favorite musicians played at some sort of reading this week (far away from Tennessee), and Brian Selznick was evidently there. She wrote on her Facebook page that “the writers had to take a ‘risk’ at the end of their readings” and that Selznick “reprised a role he had in a high school song/dance routine wearing purple tights.” That made me laugh. (And I thought it was odd that two of my favorite “artists” would end up in the same spot like that — musician and children’s book creator.)
BONUS #1: I’m a Big Saturday Night Live Geek. That should be said first. Anyway, I’ve been reading about the cast members that Lorne Michaels just laid off (and eager to see who he’s brought on board for this coming Fall), and one of them who was asked to leave was Casey Wilson (a “featured player” from the past few years). What with our culture’s rabid fixation on being slender, reports evidently swirled that she was fired for being overweight. She says it’s not true. I believe her. But here’s the kick: She released a statement that said, “I had an amazing time on ‘SNL,’ and these rumors are completely untrue…And to clarify, the issue isn’t that I’m too fat, it’s that I’m too phat. Can I get a WHAT-WHAT!” How funny is that? Way to take dumb-ass, embarrassing rumors (she’s hardly “fat”; we just live in a culture who thinks everyone should be a size zero, of course) and give ’em the middle finger. With goofy, good-natured humor.
1* YAY, Aaron Zenz! I love his blogs.
2* Last weekend the husband and I went to the wedding of one of his colleagues. It was lovely. The ceremony was at the Arboretum at the Cornell Plantations. Then the reception was at Buttermilk Falls State Park, with music by the Evil City String Band. It was fabulous.
3* Oh, and during the reception, someone casually mentioned to me that the groom, whom I had never met before, used to play drums for Twisted Sister.
I know, right?
4* Jules, can I just steal some of your kicks? Cause that video of James interpreting Snoop is freaking awesome.
5* So is the Librarian Dance. Which I have already memorized, and added a couple of book-shelving and date-due-stamping flourishes too.
6* This is so cool. A friend just told me he has synesthesia with names, and that mine is “black and silver and gold, and shimmery like foil.” Isn’t that pretty? I want synesthesia too!
7* The husband’s sister and her husband are coming to visit in a couple of weeks. It’s always fun to see them, but we’ve started planning what we’re actually going to do, what sort of stuff we want them to see. I’m looking forward to it.
What are YOUR kicks this week?