Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review of Emily at the Zoo and Interview with Monica Holtz

By Monica Holtz
Photos by Shane Opatz
Published by Holtz Creative Enterprises
ISBN: 13:978-0-9817247-5-1
ISBN: 10:0-9817247-5-2

This review is based on a review copy provided by Monica Holtz in exchange for review, all reviews being my own opinion without guarantee or assumption of liking or disliking.

Emily at the Zoo is a delightful book for children that can grow with them. It contains both a rhyming story for young children and educational facts about zoo animals for older children. The animal facts contained in the book were gathered by the author from a number of resources including the Irvine Park Zoo, National Geographic, and a number of online web sites sponsored by animal organizations.

Monica Holtz based her story on her own granddaughter Emily, a photogenic child who obviously is delighted by her trip to the zoo. The rhyme is easy to read and takes the listener around the zoo, stopping to see the different animals from the monkey behind a fence to a big black bear walking behind thick glass.

The photography in the book is the work of a professional news photographer, Shane Opatz. Mr. Opatz vividly captures the animals with close-ups and shows Emily interacting with several of the tamer species. Children will love both the rhyming story and the full color animal photographs.

Ms. Holtz is donating a portion of the proceeds from her book to the Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.


Monica Holtz has agreed to answer some questions about her work.

1. Monica, please tell me how long you've been writing and why you decided to become a writer.

I have been writing since third grade, when an enthusiastic and supportive teacher praised my story about a scary visit to the dentist. Throughout grade school, middle school, and high school, my teachers encouraged me to continue writing, so I did. Because I have a very practical side to me, I chose journalism over creative writing when I attended college. I figured a career in journalism would allow me to pay my bills regularly and provide plenty of writing opportunities. I was right. Writing suits me perfectly because I enjoy expressing myself. I also love to interview people, research topics, and acquire new bits of knowledge.

2. Is Emily at the Zoo your first published work? What other types of writing have you done?

I have written thousands of newspaper articles since 1975, when I landed my first full-time job in journalism at the Leader-Telegram daily newspaper in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Some articles were lengthy, and others were quite short. Over the years, I worked for one weekly and two daily newspapers before moving to a career as a book publishing consultant in 2005 and writing my first children’s book, Emily at the Zoo, in 2009.

3. Why did you choose to write a children's story?

I have always loved children’s books, especially picture books. My favorites are Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books. The colorful illustrations and simple messages in children’s books remind me to slow down and enjoy life. I had thought about writing children’s books for many years, but it wasn’t until my granddaughter was born in 2007 that I began creating rhymes, jotting down ideas, and pondering story lines.

4. Are you a full-time writer or a part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing time?

I am a part-time children’s author, full-time wife and grandmother, and full-time businesswoman. There are never enough hours in a day. I carry pens and small notepads with me everywhere so I can write down ideas or lines of verse as they occur to me, day or night. This usually means I end up with a purse full of notes. I store the notes in a folder, and when I am ready to write a first draft, I sort the pieces and put them together like a puzzle. Then I spend several weeks revising, tweaking, and polishing the story during spare moments. My on-the-go writing style suits my hectic lifestyle.

5. What was the process of creating this book from the first idea to the final published book?

Emily at the Zoo started as a family project and grew into a community project. I wanted to record my granddaughter’s visit to Irvine Park Zoo in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. At first I thought this would only be a nice family memento, but I soon realized it could be much more. Because many people love the zoo, I had an immediate market for a zoo book. My photographer, Shane Opatz, spent a morning following Emily from one animal exhibit to the next, recording her expressions and taking stunning photos of the animals. I sorted through more than 200 photos to select the perfect ones for my book. Next I fit my rhymes to the photos and made sure the story flowed well when read aloud. I researched and collected information on each animal, wrote animal summaries to fit each page, and then designed the layout and color scheme for the book. I did all of the graphic design, as well as the writing and editing, and I hired an experienced, local printing company to create the book I envisioned.

6. Why did you decide to self-publish this book?

I help other people publish books, so I decided I should publish my own book, too. Having total control over the look of the book, as well as the words, was appealing to me. I also wanted to retain the regional Wisconsin flavor of the book, and I was pretty sure I would have a hard time convincing another publisher that this was a good idea. As it turns out, the regional angle is a good selling point. In addition, children outside the region love the book. I received an e-mail from a New York mother who said Emily at the Zoo was her 2-year-old son’s favorite book, surpassing Thomas the Tank Engine.

7. What is your connection to the Irvine Park Zoo and why are you donating a portion of your proceeds to them?

My family has always loved to visit Irvine Park Zoo. It is the closest zoo to my home. More than 20 years ago, I took my two children to Irvine Zoo, and now I have the pleasure of taking my young granddaughter there. The zoo director and the city of Chippewa Falls have done a wonderful job of updating and improving exhibits over the years, thanks to donations from many sources. When I decided to publish my book, the zoo director responded enthusiastically. He provided information about the zoo and helped me set up a photo shoot. I, in turn, am thanking him by donating a portion of my proceeds to the zoo to help with future expansion and maintenance.

8. Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

To learn more about me and Emily at the Zoo, please visit my Web site,; see me on Facebook and, or contact me via e-mail at Emily at the Zoo can easily be ordered through my Web site.

9. Do you have any tips for writers who are new to children's literature?

Go to your local public library or a bookstore and become familiar with the most popular children’s books. Figure out why they are popular, and apply this research to your own writing. Usually, the most popular books have a spark that sets them apart from the rest. Each writer needs to create his or her own spark.

Monica, thank you for giving me the opportunity to review Emily at the Zoo and talk with you about your writing.


  1. Hi Nicole, thanks for stopping by. It is a cute book with great pictures.

  2. Wonderful review and interview. I agree with #4, there are not enough hours in the day.

  3. Karen, thanks for commenting. I think we all have to agree there aren't enough hours in the day to do everything we want. Now that I'm retired, I keep wondering how I got it all done before!

  4. Was your photographer someone you knew and he did the work for free, or did you pay? How did you determine the pay?

  5. Being a writer, I really enjoy your interviews with authors. They always give me a fresh perspective on writing and what it means to be a storyteller.

    Happy Friday!

  6. Katie, that's a great question. I forwarded it to Monica, and I'm sure she'll respond to you.

  7. Allison, I'm glad you're getting something from the interviews. I agree, as a writer, there's always something I can glean from the way other writers approach the process of crafting a story.

  8. Katie, thanks for asking about the photography. Photographer Shane Opatz is a friend and a professional news photographer. He took the photos for my book in his spare time, and we agreed on a work-for-hire fee for his work. The work-for-hire agreement gives me copyright ownership of the photos, so I do not have to pay additional fees or royalties based on sales of the book. This arrangement has worked well. Shane's photos are magnificent, and I appreciate his time and talent very much.

  9. Monica, thanks for stopping back and answering Katie's question. That was a great idea to hire Shane on a work-for-hire agreement.