Publisher Preview: Meet Hippo Park!
One pandemic change that I wasn’t unhappy to discover was the sudden democratization of publisher previews. In the old days publishers would present their upcoming lists to a small handful of New York and New York adjacent librarians, or at gawdawfully early breakfasts during ALA Conferences. COVID changed some of that. Virtual previews are now available to anyone who wishes to attend, and it has been a great good thing. That said, such previews are almost inevitably held by the “Big 5” children’s book publishers. Independent or smaller publishers have a more difficult time getting the word out. Particularly if they’re brand spanking new.
Meet Hippo Park. In New York City “Hippo Park” is a playground located within Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. As someone who once explored dozens upon dozens of Manhattan parks with my daughter when she was born, I can attest to its charm. I can attest too to the charm of the new Hippo Park imprint. Debuting in the Fall of 2022, I ran into the Hippo Park team in Bologna, and saw firsthand the titles on display. Soon thereafter, Editorial Director Jill Davis popped by Evanston, on a side trip from Chicago, and gave me the rundown. As she says on the Hippo Park website, ““The new imprint will publish stories that reflect the unpredictable, often silly, and almost always befuddling world in which children live.”
Here’s a quick look of the little list that will be coming out. A mini-preview!
Might as well begin with an actual Hippo in a park, right?
Herbert on the Slide by Rilla Alexander
Rilla Alexander is the creator of the Hippo Park logo, so it’s only fitting that she have a book on the debut list as well. This is one of the youngest titles on offer, and it’s part of a series (continuing with Fiona in the Sandbox in Spring of 2023). It’s funny but I’ve never really seen a book series laud the ecstasy of having your favorite piece of playground equipment all to yourself. Herbert doesn’t just slide in this book. He luxuriates in the entire process (and for him, it IS a process). A good book for all those parents out there like me that are playground connoisseurs, thanks to their young charges.
How to Draw A Happy Cat by Ethan T. Berlin, illustrated by Jimbo Matison
Okay! This one works well with a little set-up.
I’ve been increasingly intrigued recently by picture books that take concepts that are already familiar to kids and then turn them on their heads. Books like Guess Who? by Mac Barnett (upsetting the guess-the-silhouette genre) or Have You Seen Gordon? by Adam Jay Epstein, ill. Ruth Chan (upsetting the seek-and-find genre). Now we have How to Draw a Happy Cat which is what you’d get if you combined Ed Emberley with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. In this story the reader is encouraged to draw a happy cat. There’s a whole step-by-step process of how to do so, but at the end the cat ends up not looking so happy. The reader is then told to give the cat different things that might make it happy. Some don’t work at all and some work temporarily. About the time the cat starts getting hungry, it’s clear that this book has crossed over into storytime territory. The cat, I should note, is adorable, and I find the idea of a How To Draw book that’s ideal for reading aloud to be a very fascinating notion. Keep this one on your radar.
Come On In: There’s A Party In This Book by Jamie Michalak, with illustrations from Sabine Timm
Remember the Saxon Freymann/Joost Elffers books like How Are You Peeling? where fruit and veggies were given entirely new lives thanks to the miracle of a sharp knife and some googly eyes? I feel like artist Sabine Timm is tapping into something similar with this book. Timm, for the record, is a bit of a phenomena in her own right. After all, she has something like 167K Instagram followers. For this book, Timm created a little animated intro that received over 7100 views in just two weeks.
The story centers on a party animal lemon. It’s in search of a particular kind of party, and goes through a variety of different rhyming locations along the way on its quest. The book is filled with tiny objects like you’d find in a dollhouse, as well as characters Timm created, and found objects. It’s a bouncy, rhyme-y readaloud, that’s for certain. Extra bonus points for the die-cut cover that invites readers to come in the book.
Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork by Constance Lombardo with illustrations by Jason Patterson and Dan Abdo
Cutlery vies for a baby’s love in one of the sillier offerings of the list (and I mean that as a compliment). Since I was the kid that believed that every inanimate object in my home had a rich internal life (which, in turn, spilled over into their soap opera-esque love lives as well) this book would have totally have been my bag. Everything in this book is alive with intent, particularly the delightful stuffed bunny with the chewed ear, who pops up occasionally with background comments. I appreciated very much that the baby in this book is the kind to throw its toys and eating utensils on the floor and then become completely distraught that, by some cruel hand of fate, now they’re out of reach! Dan & Jason the illustrators may be familiar to you if you’ve read the delightful Barb the Last Bezerker graphic novel series that started last year. Don’t know it? Go grab it then, folks. I mean, it’s called Barb the Bezerker. What could you even want that tops that?
We shouldn’t have favorites on lists. And yet, here we are. This next one is my own personal favorite:
a bear, a bee, and a honey tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brandon James Scott
Cast your mind back a couple years. Do you, by any chance, happen to remember a thoroughly charming readaloud rhyming picture book by the name of One Day In the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree? As I recall it came out in 2017. Happen to remember the author? Yes indeed, it was Daniel Bernstrom. I’ve been waiting ever since for something comparable, and now I’ve found it. This book explores, with gentle rhymes, the eternal struggle between bear and bee. Daniel actually wrote it for his son who was a struggling reader. It concerned him, as a dad, that his son enjoy reading and that spills over into not just his own books but also the games he plays with his kids (apparently he plays hide-and-seek with his four kids in the dark with a spray bottle filed with water in “an epic game of danger, escape and very wet children!”). Having learned his craft from none other than author Emily Jenkins, one of his graduate school faculty advisors who taught him “how to play with only a few words”, he’s put that info to good use. The PDF I received of this book was great but filled with editorial notes, so I can’t show you my favorite spreads yet. Wait for it, though. This’ll knock your socks off.
Many thanks to Jill for the great preview! You can follow Hippo Park on Instagram if you like, and keep an eye out for these books in the fall!
Filed under: Publisher Previews
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.
SLJ Blog Network