Author/Illustrator Interview: Zachariah Ohora

Today I welcome into the wardrobe Zachariah OHora, the author and illustrator of Stop Snoring, Bernard! (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2011). As you will see in the book trailer below (and the pictures above), Stop Snoring, Bernard! is a picture book that will induce giggles as well as touch hearts as Bernard tries to find a new place to sleep at the zoo - his fellow sea otters have kicked him out because he is a chronic snorer!

Hi, Zach! Let's talk about your influences and inspirations.

What are the top five picture books that turned you into a picture book author/illustrator? What was it about them that led you down the path to writing and illustrating your own picture book?

The earliest books that I remember loving were Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day? and his Rabbit and His Friends Golden Book, the one about the Platypus, I was obsessed with the scene where the Platypus joined the circus and was hanging out eating ice cream and lollipops, it made me want to join the circus! I guess for the ice cream? My mom was pretty into nutrition at the time and we weren't allowed anything with sugar so that must have seemed insane that you could have a job that involved ice cream AND lollipops.


Here is a link to a blog that has the entire book scanned, I still look at this for inspiration.

Wow, thank you for the link. That ice cream cone is almost as big as the platypus!

Harold and the Purple Crayon was one of the few books with a limited palette that I liked, and the magic simplicity of it was pretty profound, even as a little kid.

I agree!

I was also drawn to the linework of Syd Hoff, like Danny and the Dinosaur and Margaret Bloy Graham's Harry and the Dirty Dog.

I realize that I'm going over the limit of Top Five here, but the single most influential picture book that made me think, THIS is what I want to do was The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith. This came out when I was in high school, and I was blown away. It was funny, a little subversive and Lane Smith used collage and other techniques in ways that I never saw before.

I was also blown away by The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. (My third grade teacher read it to the class.)

Where do you go, and what do you do for inspiration for your work?

Often I will go to libraries and look at picture books, other times I walk around the city and go record shopping for inspiration.

According to your author bio, you are "known to snore, sometimes loudly." Is Stop Snoring, Bernard! based on a true story?

The truth about the snoring thing, after I wrote my first picture book and sent it out to be roundly rejected, my wife and I brainstormed ideas for a new book. She produced a list of annoying things I do and said I could do a book on each of these things, and uh, it's quite a long list, and snoring kind of leapt to the top.

My absolute favorite thing about Stop Snoring, Bernard! is the amazingly expressive facial expressions on the animals. Can you please share your creative process for illustrating the characters and some character studies?

Sometimes making gifts or decorative objects is a good way to create characters because I am thinking more about the person I am making it for, what would make them laugh or some little nuance of their personality and the character starts to take on a life of its own.

My wife Lydia and I have a long standing game of cute ping pong, where we send each other the cutest possible pictures of animals found on the internet or drawn by hand. At some point baby dachshunds and baby otters started to appear pretty regularly. The first painting I did of an otter that evolved into Bernard, was this one.

Once I have a story or setting in mind, I will visit say, a zoo and snap photos for reference.

What is your favorite reaction to Stop Snoring, Bernard! from a wee one?

There have been some really fun moments during book readings, but I'm especially proud and humbled that my son Oskar who is almost four, and can't read, has memorized every word of Stop Snoring, Bernard! and he "reads" it to me!

Awww. Do you have a message for your wee readers?

If I had a message, it would probably be "Stay Fuzzy and Hopeful." It's also a reminder to myself to try not to let life make you too cynical and to stop and appreciate the little fuzzy moments in life.

Reading Stop Snoring, Bernard! to wee ones is definitely a fuzzy moment!

Can you please give us a photo tour of your studio? :o)

Here is a tour, I have to warn you though, it's in its real day to day, cluttered and messy state. I work out of my house in a room in the middle of the second floor. I have two little boys who like to come in and "work" with Daddy. I also have a couple pairs of good headphones so that I can block out the chaos that seeps through the studio door.

My computer desk and my work desk. Work in progress.

This is the wall I put up character studies and books and manuscripts I'm working on. The images of the gorilla and the little girl are the beginning of a book called Nilsson and Amelia. It's about a Gorilla who throws big fits and a little girl who tries to help him respond in a more civilized way. It's slated to come out Summer 2013 with Penguin. In the center is my lucky bamboo that I've had since before we moved from Brooklyn three years ago.

A shelf of hand painted stacking doll character studies. And a TIE fighter I found with Richard Scarry's Hilda the hippo at the helm.

I'm lucky to have some friends who are super talented illustrators whose work I find inspiring. This piece is by Tim Gough. I love the color palette!

This is my supply closet, it looks neat on the outside, but the inside is a jungle of paper scraps, artwork, office supplies and fun stuff like taxes. The eye chart my wife found in Berlin at an old flea market and the boxes up top are some vintage reel to reel boxes that she gave me for my birthday.

My wife Lydia Ricci is also an amazing artist and designer. The piece on the upper right is some of her collage work and below is my patented Auto-Magnetic-Idea Story Machine Maker. Essentially, a stack of 3X5 cards with story ideas both bad and good to refer to when I'm drawing a blank.

Thank you so much for answering my questions and for the studio tour, Zach! Congratulations on winning the Founder's Award of the Society of Illustrators' 2011 Original Art Awards for Stop Snoring, Bernard!


jama said…
Love this! My husband is a "Bernard." Thanks, Zach and Tarie :).
Tarie said…
Jama, if your husband is a "Bernard," you will like the ending of the book!
Z OHora said…
Thanks for featuring Bernard Tarie!
Tarie said…
Thank YOU, Zach, for Bernard!
batalaland said…
lovely stuff!! n inspiring art :)
Tarie said…
Glad you liked this post, Batalaland! :o)