I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, by John Rox, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (2005)
I had BoyChild choose a few Christmas books to preview, and this was the first one he wanted me to read. Really, what could be a bigger draw to a little boy than a huge hippo on the cover of a Christmas book? I think it probably also helps that the song that forms the text of this book is his daddy’s self-professed favorite Christmas song and is played frequently in this house! (There is no accounting for taste…) BoyChild’s favorite animal was the hippo for a while (he has a stuffed one he calls Fippo), and although he has moved on to the more tangible dog, he apparently still has a special place in his heart for the hippopotamus!
The words in this book are the words of the song, written in 1950 by John Rox. It includes two verses of the song, but the entire song (with sheet music included!) can be found at the end of the book. The song, of course, is absolutely silly, and the illustrations just help flesh out the silliness! They are semi-realistic and have a variety of perspectives to keep things interesting. The very first illustration is a close-up of an excited little girl (who looks a lot like I would have at that age, but without the gap between her teeth that I had!) holding up her Christmas list which reads simply, “Dear Santa” with a large crayon drawing of a hippo. Her parents enjoy a little chuckle as they look at it, and the book continues to show the little girl offering a carrot to a hippo constructed from a table, chair, and some boxes, but the pictures immediately change to a slightly more cartoonish style (the hippo and other fantasy elements are rendered this way while the little girl and her family remain semi-realistic) to show Santa attempting to get the flummoxed hippo through the door into her house. My son and I both like the next illustration the best (but for different reasons): It shows the pink-footie-pajama-clad little girl standing in front of a large, happy, lavender hippopotamus (sitting on an accordion-squashed gift box) while her parents sit behind her on the stairs, her father shocked, her mother in disbelief. For me, it’s the trip into fantasy where we see what would happen if a hippo suddenly appeared under the tree; for him, it’s a big hippo squishing a box! We are then treated to images of the little girl (dwarfed by the size of her enormous gift) and the hippo facing off with the other gift alternatives (rhinoceroses, crocodiles, and the like), the hippo eagerly awaiting his vegetarian treat, and him receiving his wash and massage in the garage. Another of my favorite series of images comes when the chorus of “what joy and what surprise” is repeated, and you can see a happy hippopotamus reflected in the girl’s wide eyes and then her face reflected in his equally joyous gaze. The little girl is then treated to a hippo-drawn trip on Santa’s sleigh to end the book (with a dancing hippo on the lyrics page and a snow hippo on the very last page).
As I’ve said before, we don’t really do the Santa thing, but we don’t avoid mentions of him either, and discussing different genres of stories is a typical part of our reading experiences together with both him and GirlChild. At age four, he has a great imagination, so BoyChild still has a limited idea of what is actually outside the scope of possibility. For that reason, it’s kind of confusing to try to explain to him what’s “real” in a book and what’s really real (and he wants to know!), and books where fantasy elements are included but are potentially just in a character’s imagination (like the hippo and all the events surrounding his arrival and exploits) just make it even more confusing! Maybe we should reread the illustrated nonfiction book Hippos Are Huge! and ask him if that’s the sort of hippo in this book and if it could be real… 😉 (Just a note: There is a hippo poop fight in that book. BoyChild loved it.)
(If you have Amazon Prime, you can actually add the song to your playlist for free, but it’s less than a dollar to purchase it if you really find that you like it!)
Other hippo-themed (but non-Christmas) books:
Hippos Go Berserk!, by Sandra Boynton
The Bellybutton Book, by Sandra Boynton
But Not the Hippopotamus, by Sandra Boynton (hippos are a favorite of hers, I think)
Hippos Can’t Swim and Other Fun Facts, by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hannah Eliot
Hippos Are Huge!, by Jonathan London (BoyChild’s favorite from above)