Happy I’m a Hippo

I can’t believe it’s been nearly three months since I last wrote about a children’s book.  Children’s books are a major preoccupation of mine, and I certainly have a backlog of great books to discuss.

But one of the books that I’m being asked to read on a daily basis at the moment is the delightful Happy I’m A Hippo written by Richard Edwards with illustrations by Carol Liddiment, and published by Alison Green Books.

While my now nearly 35 month old son has mostly been taken by books with one or two lines of text per page, this book has been a huge hit even with its copious text, detailed plot developments and pauses in the story for the hippo to sing.

This is the story of a hippo who doesn’t want to be a hippo, so she tries her best to be a monkey, an eagle and a meerkat (each attempt is a notable failure) before a young wildebeest convinces her that being a hippo is a wonderful thing to be. Great moral (stop looking at the impressive things other people can do and focus on your own strengths instead), but that hasn’t gotten in the way of this book telling a rollicking tale of adventure, ambition, and acceptance.

Both beautifully written and sumptuously illustrated, even after many readings you will find new details to talk about in the pictures, and new ways to enjoy the very cleverly composed text.  An example of the layers in the text is the choice of words for each animal the hippo wishes to become: the eagle asks if the hippo can ‘glide’ and ‘wheel’ and so forth, and each word carries a sense of soaring powerfully and effortlessly through the wind; the meerkat asks if the hippo can ‘scamper’ and ‘scurry’ and a sequence of other words that demand the reader hurry them along in a darting fashion. Multiple readings give the adult a chance to really master and perform the spoken possibilities of the text!

And I’m delighted to report that my son adores reciting the little song the hippo sings every couple of pages, adores saying the word ‘plunged’ (in the dramatic manner demanded of it in the context of the story), and he adores reading the book to himself (from memory) poring over each page in great detail as he narrates the events matching the illustrations. You can see that this book will be one of his precious childhood treasures (I’d better buy a second copy).

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