Top 100 Picture Books #72: But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton
To me, what makes this book so uniquely great is the meta-joke that the Hippo isn’t allowed to join the group of animals until someone can figure out a rhyme for hippopotamus, but I know from speaking with other parents who missed that joke, that it stands out just on the basis of Boynton’s brilliant drawings and semi-absurd decision to exclude the hippopotamus (and the armadillo). – Mark Flowers
Okay, first off I’m ashamed to say that though I have read this book to my daughter approximately 1,000 times, I never noticed Mark’s point until now. This explains everything!!! Who knew that a board book could stymie an adult so well? That’s probably a good reason why a board book made it onto the list. Now the last time I conducted this poll I excluded any and all board books from the running. That was needlessly cruel, I now understand. After all, it meant that folks like Sandra Boynton, masters of their form, would never be able to be properly praised for their genius. This time around the rules were changed and the result is that we get to have books like this one on the list. Short. Sweet. Very very funny.
The description from the publisher reads, “In this simple, playful board book, a shy hippo watches as other animals engage in social activities. Finally, the other animals invite the hippo along and, after dithering a moment, she leaps into the fun…with hilarious results. The repetitive, enjoyable rhythm, cheerful mood, and well-crafted, simple rhymes will endear this story to toddlers everywhere.”
Now Boynton is a puzzle. Folks come to children’s books from a variety of different places but when I think of greeting card artists I must admit that my first thoughts turn to Robert Crumb. Boynton’s style is a touch different (just a touch) but she too was in the biz. As you can see from her autobiography she has “designed, by varying estimates (none of them in fact mine because I’ve not yet gotten sufficiently motivated to start counting) somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 greeting cards.” Her first book for kids was also Hippo-related. It was Hippos Go Bezerk and it was her January Project while she was still a student the Yale School of Drama. These days she’s all fancy with her personalized board books n’ such but there’s no replacing her great originals. And But Not the Hippopotamus may be considered her best work yet.
The good news is that this August we’ll be seeing a 30th anniversary edition of this book coming out from the Simon & Schuster imprint Little Simon. According to the publisher it will have “an enlarged trim size and a shiny foiled cover.” Ooh. Aah. And if you’d like to see what the original art looked like (quite different really) there’s a shot of the original in this post.
Now there are quite a few videos out there of families reading this book either to or with their kids. From the very young, to the very silly, to the more mature. I’ll go with the latter when posting here. Enjoy!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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