Spring Lake resident’s ‘Hiccupotamus’ is a first for publisher


Dogs in Hats Children’s Publishing recently released Aaron Zenz’s “The Hiccupotamus,” a children’s story about a purple hippo with a severe case of the hiccups.

Zenz, a Spring Lake resident, wrote and illustrated the book, which he said is the publishing company’s first effort to break into the hardcover children’s book market.  Previously Dogs in Hats has released activity and sticker books, small story books, and card games.

Publisher John Sandford said Zenz has been working with Dogs in Hats since its inception in 2003.  Sandford, a prolific picture book writer and illustrator with 60 titles to his name, founded the company in Grand Haven.  Although the creative office is located in the city, the business end of the company is now located in Elmhurst, Ill.

Sandford said Zenz is a creative source and he is confident that this will not be his last children’s book.

Zenz said he came up with the idea for the book when he was at his parents’ home and had contracted a case of the hiccups.  He said he wanted to make a joke about a hiccupotamus, but instead ended up with a little ditty that became the first stanza of his book.

Zenz said he later revisited the idea when he was taking a children’s book class at Hillsdale College.

“My mind went back to that verse,” he said.  In his first version of the book, Zenz said he cut a lot of corners with the rhyme scheme he established for the book, because he only had a weekend to work on the project.  It wasn’t until eight years later that Zenz figured out how he was going to accommodate a scheme that would align itself and match up pseudo-suffixes that he established in that first verse.

Zenz created 25 original illustrations for the piece using just colored pencils.  Zenz said he prefers working with colored pencils because of the control he has with the medium.

Zenz said each picture took an entire day just to do the sky because of the force he uses to apply the colored pencil giving his pieces powerful gradients with a detailed glossy texture.  Working on the book he calculates he went through 119 pencils, breaking 251 pencil tips.

Zenz said he enjoyed writing the book and plans on working on new books after he has finished promoting “The Hiccupotamus.”  He has plans for three November book signings in Jackson and another for the Spring Lake District Library Book Fair on Nov. 19.  On Dec. 5 he will appear at Hillsdale College, and a book signing at The Bookman in Grand Haven is in the works.