April 22, 2012

But Not the Hippopotamus

But Not the Hippopotamus
By Sandra Boynton; illus. by author
0-4 Preschool Primary Little Simon 12 pp.
978-0671449049 Board $5.99

It's easy to feel out of step with the world, especially when you're a shy hippopotamus. Once again, Sandra Boynton addresses a serious topic - in this case, feeling left out - in terms of such fun and silliness that toddlers will have their emotional horizons gently broadened without even realizing it's happened.

The eponymous hippopotamus looks on alone as different pairs of animals engage in variety of activities. "A hog and a frog to a dance in the bog" and "a moose and a goose together have juice" and on and on. But just when it seems that she is destined to loneliness simply because it's hard to rhyme "hippopotamus", the other animals come back and say, "hey! Come join the lot of us!" And after a moment's hesitation, the hippopotamus does... but "not the armadillo."

The rhyme scheme and illustrations make But Not the Hippopotamus a solid choice, even for pre-verbal babies. Though rhythmically less predictable than some of her other stories, But Not the Hippopotamus scans poetically and is, if anything, more interesting because its rhymes don't fall into the sing-songy pattern of many baby books. Meanwhile, the titular key phrase guides the reader through and provides an element of narrative structure. The way that Boynton ends up rhyming "hippopotamus" with "the lot of us", (thus ensuring her hippo's inclusion), is nothing but terribly clever.

As with many of her books, Boynton uses humor a vehicle for genuine emotion. Her hippopotamus looks lonely and unsure, garnering the sympathies of young readers and engendering a sense of relief when she's finally included - but only if a child is emotionally mature enough to do so. But Not the Hippopotamus works on multiple levels. For younger toddlers, the tale is just funny, which is fine too, and even very little ones will enjoy hearing the rhythms and seeing the pictures. But Not the Hippopotamus is silly and funny and surprisingly deep. A lovely surprise of a book, it has as much to offer a baby as it does a toddler, and will grow with a baby as the baby grows up.

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