Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book Review: Hippopotamus Stew by Joan Horton


Book: Hippopotamus Stew and other silly animal rhymes
Author: Joan Horton
Illustrator: JoAnn Adinolfi
Published: 2006
Source: Local Library

Meet a beaver with braces, a billy goat who just can't stop eating, and a sheep plagued by moths! These and more feature in the pages of Hippopotamus Stew. How does a centipede find matching shoes? Just how many tissues does a sniffly elephant require? I know you've been wondering.

So I opened this up and thought, "Oh, wow, more cute animal poems. Ho-hum." Then I started reading. There's an edge to these poems, something in the wit that's like Shel Silverstein at his most enjoyably heartless. You know the kind, where kids are being eaten by lions or crushed by garbage--a sense that the world is both goofy and dangerous, and neither negates the other. The crocodile poem warns of getting too close to a reptile in case you "see a napkin tucked under his chin." In the mosquito poem, the bitten bites back. The anteater reacts in the most logical way to demands from the ants. Hilarious, but with a hint of sharpness about them too.

Illustrator JoAnn Adinolfi uses a number of different media, including collaged photos and watercolor scraps, to illustrate all the different animals. Perhaps it was her style that lead me into thinking these would be fluffy poems, because while the art is vivid and attractive, it's very nonthreatening. She uses lots of curvy lines, round faces, bright colors, and simple features. I did, however, appreciate that the humans shown were not all Caucasian. I think they're good illustrations, well-done and happily kooky, they just don't betray that whisper of darkness that come out in the poems.

I loved this, and I think kids will too. Try these poems as readalouds to preschool and up, or let strong early readers try a few on their own.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

This sounds adorable! I have a friend who LOVES hippos and is a new mom, so I'll pass your review along to her. :)