From Holly: When my son was young, I read to him most nights. We especially enjoyed reading “real-life” stories. So in the Z-House stories, I tell true-life, fun stories that parents can read in about 20 minutes to their children – and that also lead to teachable moments. The stories have a lot of text (around 2000 words), lots of illustrations ─ aimed at ages 3-8 though a best fit for children still being read to. These are the ages many children start asking to get a pet or children are being taught how to get along with the pets already living in their homes or in their relatives or friends’ homes.

Z House Stories

“I love reading your books to my kids, especially my 4 year old daughter.” BJ (November 2013)

“So impressed with your wonderful Z stories!”  RW (August 2013)

“Absolutely adorable!” CLJ (August 2013) from Happily Ever After Children’s Literature fundraiser (donating children’s books to make it possible for local families to adopt children with special needs)

“Really enjoying reading your stories to my grandchildren!”  TB (October 2013)


How BJ Diana Came to Live at the Z House

5 stars – “Great story for kids and their parents!  This is the kind of story parents won’t mind reading to their kids. What I also like is that Zanville’s stories are based on real events in her life. (I found more on her at her Web site at The illustrations are really sweet. The story is not overly complicated but still has a good message.” C.B. (July 2012)

“Thanks for sharing your story — it’s fun to read, and I really like the illustrations, particularly the well-varied layouts and sense of color. My favorite is the animals lined up to cram into the doggie door.  Funny/clever.”  TC (January 2012)

“[My daughter] really loves her book and is sending you some artwork as a thank you!” DM (January 2012)

“Read your story to my daughter and she said she want to live at the Z House!”  TS (July 2013)

“I just read the BJ Diana book tonight to my six year old twins and they were totally riveted. When we got to the page about how many fish there were in the pond, one daughter yelled “mommy, this is a counting book!” And then she proceeded to count all of the animals on every page. When the book was done she said, ‘I want to live in Z house.’ So sweet.  You are a wonderful storyteller …. A huge hit.”  WS (October 2012)

Judge, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards: “I love this story. Your characterization of the cat was great.  Through her actions we saw her perseverance and independence …. Really funny that Mom Z had the cat neutered and that the neighbor thought it had been done by aliens. I liked that you explained the cat having the operation to keep her from having kittens because there were already too many cats without homes. You write very well; text flows smoothly for easy reading by the adult to the child. I liked the illustrations, especially the cat’s eyes.  I enjoyed the beasts trying to get inside the dog door.  This type of story seems to fit best in the picture book genre that would be read by an adult to a young child.  The usual length for that target reader is under 1,000 words, the length that has been proven ideal for the attention span of a three to five-year-old.  Ratings (5 = outstanding , 1 = needs improvement): 4 for Structure & Organization, 5 for Grammar, 5 for Production Quality &  Cover Design, 5 for Plot , 5 for Character Development.]  (October 2013)

“An animal-loving family meets a spunky cat in an illustrated comedy of errors: The Z house has always been a haven for wayward critters, but with seven fish, three cats, one dog and a few backyard raccoons, Mom Z and her son, Noah, have decided that the house is full. When a stray cat starts to pay visits to the yard, Mom Z tries to shoo her away, but the little cat is stubborn. Before Mom Z knows it, the cat has claimed a favorite spot in the Z family’s lawn chair, and she quickly becomes a regular visitor to the backyard. Mom Z and Noah are unable to locate the cat’s owners, so they decide to have her fixed. A few days after her surgery, the cat escapes, and Mom Z and Noah are frantic—until they get a phone call from the vet. They soon learn that the cat had “escaped” back to her owner, who believes the surgical scar is the result of alien interference. Mom Z and Noah are willing to relinquish ownership, but the cat has other ideas, and it’s not long before she wanders back to the Z’s yard. Before long, Mom Z and Noah find themselves entangled in a web of not two, but three prospective owners, and it will be up to the cat to decide which house to call home. Stommel and Czekalski’s cartoonish illustrations perfectly match the tone of this wacky, upbeat children’s book, which is full of odd surprises and strange turns of events. Though the plot twists set the book apart, some of the strangest moments—such as the owner’s belief that her cat was operated on by aliens—are mentioned so quickly that they feel out of place and jarring. Zanville (How the Dog Came to the Z House, 2013, etc.) is careful to maintain a frank and child-friendly tone as she explains the surgery and visits to the vet’s office, but particularly sensitive readers may be put off by the graphic illustration of the scar and by the cat’s willingness to leave her owners.

A quirky story about a cat with a mind of her own.”  Book review by KIRKUS REVIEWS (January 2014)


How the Dog Came to Live at the Z House

“5 stars – Another great story!  Adding a pet to the household is a big undertaking. In this story, a little boy and his mom take us through the steps involved in finding the right pet, all the things you need to consider before bringing one home and the adjustments needed for not only the people, but for any other animals already in the home. This is a must-have for families considering getting a pet of their own. Charming story and really great illustrations.”  C.B.  (February 2013).

“Kids + Pets = Lifetime benefits: Caring for a pet provides amazing benefits to kids. Here are some great ways and a look at a terrific book discussing responsible pet care!” MH (August 2013 in Parent-Guide, the comprehensive resource for new adopters of cats and dogs)

“Zanville (How BJ Diana Came to Live at the Z House, 2012, etc.) offers a warm, realistic picture book about getting a new pet. Noah’s mom has promised him that they can think about getting a dog when he turns 6. Like most little kids, however, he assumes “thinking about” means doing; like most parents, his mom hopes she can put off making a tough decision by using the old standard, “I’ll think about it.” But when the day inevitably comes, Noah is still excited about getting a dog. Again, Mom Z tries a very familiar parenting tactic: They can go look at the shelter, but she makes no promises on whether they’ll actually come home with a dog. Of course, a perfect little black dog with a gentle disposition is waiting for them there. The only problem is that another family has already signed papers to adopt him. A long wait begins to find out whether the little black dog will come to live at the Z house or not. Zanville’s story follows its own rhythm, without a traditional narrative arc or climax. Mama Z and Noah take each step as it comes, and there’s little drama or suspense. Indeed, it’s a lot like the rhythm of real life, and that becomes problematic at times: All good real-life tales need a little editing—a few details left out or elided—to make a good story on the page. As a result, this story’s level of detail makes it drag at points, but Zanville’s sentence structure and word choice—carefully targeted to an early-elementary reading level—help keep things moving along. Stommel and Czekalski’s illustrations perfectly bring big-eyed little Noah and his caring, approachable mom to life and provide just the right amount of humor.

A friendly, quirky book with a slow, steady rhythm all its own.” Book review by KIRKUS REVIEWS (January 2014)


Summer at the Z House

“Really enjoy the “art themes’ in the latest story – and love the illustrations!”  KZ (October 2013).

“A little boy, his mom and assorted pets enjoy a summertime visit from Grandma in this warm chronicle of everyday family life, enlivened with vocabulary-rich text and quirky illustrations. When Grandma arrives for a visit, her engaged, caring presence makes the summer days more fun for Noah, his mom, and their animals, which include a dog named Pepper and three cats. Grandma turns dinner into a special occasion by writing descriptions of her feast (salad, roast beef, chocolate pudding) on a menu that Noah happily reads aloud before each course—a subtle underscoring of the author’s mission to encourage reading among her target audience. Grandma enjoys hearing about Noah’s creative day camp endeavors, which include crafting masks, making a totem pole and creating cartoons with clay figures (all beguilingly and colorfully imagined by illustrators Stommel and Czekalski). She also shares the family’s love for animals. The book is the third in a series of books centered on Noah, his mom and their growing collection of pets, each with its own distinct personality. Zanville (How the Dog Came to Live at the Z House, 2013, etc.), a veteran educator and a regular blogger about reading and literacy at, offers vivid images throughout; for example, during the family’s trip to an aquarium, Noah observes ‘miniature jellyfish that looked like white parachutes with dangly tentacles’ and ‘glowed in the lights of their dark tanks so brightly—it was like looking at little stars in the sky.’ There are no wacky plot twists here—just refreshingly genuine warmth and quiet observations of real-life moments among family members, be they human, canine or feline.

A well-observed, colorfully illustrated book about a close-knit family’s day-to-day life.”  Book review by KIRKUS REVIEWS (January 2014).

Kirkus review icon
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2014 by Kirkus Reviews (Children’s)
THE KIRKUS STAR Awarded to Books of Exceptional Merit