Fuse #8

Friday, May 19, 2006

Review of the Day: Hiccupotamus

The gods of Poetry Friday must be appeased, so I’ve wheeled out a rhyming picture book as a sacrifice. For the sake of full-disclosure I would like to say how it was that I came across, “Hiccupotamus”. One day a bright and shiny package arrived at my workplace. Inside was an autographed copy of this book with a long hand-written note complimenting my blog and calling me the “Ain’t It Cool News” site for kids books. I admit, I was more than a little flattered, but I do have some pride. After all, you can’t trust a reviewer who gets free goodies and then gives them a free pass review-wise. Holding up "Hiccupotamus" I decided there and then to be ruthless in my reviewing. Cruel, perhaps. Intense in my scrutiny of.... Awwwwww. Look at the cute little hippo Mr. Zenz drew at the bottom of his letter for me. Look at the cute little words. Look at the funny little book. Fine, fine. I’m a sellout. But in all honesty, allow me to say that if “Hiccupotamus” was not as good as the following review states it to be, I would not have written a review of it at all. You’ve won this round, Zenz! To the rest of your authors out there, let’s not make this a precedent, kay? I will only review your books if they are honestly good and particularly well-written. “Hiccupotamus” is a merely fluke of small-press delightfulness.

There is only one sure-fire way to get rid of the hiccups. You take a glass of water, you put a terry cloth towel over the top, and then you drink the water through the towel as slowly as possible. So it was with some sadness that I saw that “Hiccupotamus” (say THAT five times fast) did not contain that particular cure. Oh, it contained plenty more, often in twisted array of combinations. The product of a small time press (Dogs In Hats Children’s Publishing, anyone?), this is one of those rather enjoyable picture books that defy the notion that a publishing house must be grand and grotesque to produce anything good. Colorful, deeply amusing (both visually and in the text), and more fun than it truly deserves to be, “Hiccupotamus” won me over in spite of myself. I don’t usually go for picture books of this stripe, but it's hard to resist the sheer charm that makes up this pretty little book.

In rhyming verse we learn of the dire fate of an adorable purple hippopotamus. He got the hiccups, “quite-a-lotamus”. At first he doesn’t do much about the fact. Unfortunately, that means startling other creatures around and about him. An angry elephant starts chasing him once he disturbs her cake and cupcake dining. She’s joined soon thereafter by a “centipede pouring new cementipede” and even by a rhinoceros. “… And that was the last strawcerous”. Hiccup cures are employed, but they’re doubled up for maximum effectiveness. This means, “They acquired an aquarium / And flashed him something scaryum”. In the end, the hiccups are gone but seemingly have transferred to the elephant, centipede, and rhino instead. The last image we have in the book is of a revenge-minded hippo with a book entitled, “FIX HICS” clutched tightly in his hot little hands.

By and large, I try to avoid picture books that look cartoonish. Zenz, however, has done especially well with this form of colored pencil illustration. His hippo is a rounded benign little fellow, all chubby cheeks and worried eyes. It’s fun to watch what Zenz does with the background colors of this book as well. Sometimes the sky is a lemon yellow with orange trees shedding leaves all about. Other times it's a light purple-pink sky with hot-pink trees instead. Fans of earth tones, beware. Zenz has a whole heaping palette of bright and cheery colors at his disposal and he’s not afraid to employ them. His characters and settings are also beautifully shaded, giving otherwise cartoony images a warm rounded glow.

Not only do I tend to avoid books with cartoon-like imagery, I DEFINITELY avoid picture books that try to rhyme. Too often an author has only the vaguest sense of how to make any given line scan. Zenz, however, has considered the matter and found a form that fits him to a tee. Here’s a typical four line stanza, “They tried to find a therapy / Some cure which they could shareapy / A what or why or whereapy / To stop this long nightmareapy”. I can hear overly conscientious parents lamenting the creation of new words like “nightmareapy”. To them I blow a great big raspberry. I LIKE what Zenz is doing here. Yeah, okay. Fine. It’s not Ogden Nash. What it is instead is a lot of fun and a particularly good readaloud. I don’t tend to say this very often, but if you wanted to read this book to a large group of second graders, you could do so with the greatest of ease. It just rolls off the tongue.

I’m sure that there are people out there that could come up with multiple picture books dealing with an onslaught of the hiccups. For me, the only one that came to mind after reading “Hiccupotamus” was “Skeleton Hiccups” by Margery Cuyler. The two books would actually pair together rather well, it now occurs to me. Neither one makes any use of my aforementioned sure-fire cure for hiccups, but that’s okay. The overwhelming cheeriness of “Hiccupotamus” will win over even the most skeptical of parents (on a second reading, at the very least). Fun, frolicsome, and a definitely original work. Worth locating.


At 11:15 AM , Blogger Kelly said...

Picture books with bad scan are the worst and bug me to no end. The very worst one I've ever read is some Berenstain Bears' monstronsity about Thanksgiving (it has some monster type bear in it and some of the most horrible lines of poetry ever, ever written.)

At 12:04 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Ah, yes. What the Triumverate of Mediocrity is for me, Berenstain Bears are for you. Celebrity picture books are perhaps the worst offenders of poor scanning. They think they can write? Fine. They think they can rhyme? Not fine. Not fine at all.

At 1:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was thinking about it, and turns out there are i think two other hippo books about hiccups. one by faulkner. check em out.

At 3:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey FuseVIII -

Thanks for the nod! It's great fun to read your brutally honest reviews -- of other people, that is! When one finds oneself the target, it's a very nerve-racking experience. Glad I came out fairly clean!

Anony - yep, after finishing Hic', some poking around revealed a multitude of hippo/hiccup books -- it's almost its own genre. There have to be around 30 or 40 others. The best of which is an old Mercer Mayer. Why hippos????? Must be the 'H'. Although, I haven't seen any Hiccupping Horses. Odd. I was just amazed that amid such a history, no picturebook ever thought to use the obvious bad pun 'hiccupotamus'. Lucky for me.

Delighted fluke, AZ

At 2:02 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I like the designation Fuse VIII. Remind me to use that one in the future soon.

Fairly clean? Really? I thought I was practically singing its praises! I need to start reeling in the snark a bit, eh?

By the way, I love the idea of hiccuping hippos being its own genre. I may explore that in more depth...


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