Monday, October 1, 2012

WHEN I WOKE UP I WAS A HIPPOPOTAMUS

Written by Tom MacRae

Illustrated by Ross Collins

(Andersen Press, 2011)

Okay, before I begin to discuss this book, let me just work through a rant.  Writing and illustrating a picture book involve distinct skill sets.  I have particular respect for the talented few who excel in both realms.  The recent trend in children’s publishing is to print both the author and the illustrator’s name on the cover without noting his/her particular role.  Same for the title page.  Only from the back jacket flap can one determine that one person was the writer and the other the illustrator rather than having the book be a wholly collaborative undertaking.  I agree that names deserve equal billing on the cover and I realize that, when there is no specification, the author’s name appears first, followed by the illustrator.  I just think the contributors should receive a specific credit for what they did.  Am I the only one who feels this way?  Feel free to leave a comment.

Okay,...I feel better.  I shall shed my cranky Grizzly persona and move on to talking about hippos.

When I Woke Up I Was a Hippopotamus doesn’t actually dwell long on the hippo transformation.  No, this is a book about a boy who imagines he is a series of objects, each occurring at the most (in)opportune time.  When it is time to get up and go to school, enter hippo.  “[H]ippos in their sludge don’t get up in the morning, and so I didn’t budge.”  As the boy nears school, he becomes a statue.  His poor parents must push and tug to fight the inertia.  Once class is dismissed, the boy is a rocket, zipping home faster than the speed of light.

It is a fun book, one that might feed young minds with DANGEROUS bursts of imagination to help cope with the day while leading to greater exasperation from parents and teachers with their own schedules and commitments.

The story reminds me of the amusing imaginings of Frankie in Let’s Do Nothing and the adventures of Calvin in so many Calvin & Hobbes sequences.  Why be human when you can be a monster, a robot or a mud-lovin’ hippo?

My one quibble with the book is that the text is told in rhyme.  Some of the verses come off clunky as one has to squeeze in a couple of extra syllables.  Getting the rhyme right distracts from the goofy antics.  But then, I confess to reading every children’s rhyme as though it were written by Dr. Seuss.  Perhaps it is I who needs to stretch myself.

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