Friday 14 February 2020

There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake

There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake by Hazel Edwards, illustrated by Deborah Niland (Puffin) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9781 760896270

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

It’s amazing that a children’s book has been 40 years in print, but that is the case with this classic Australian children’s picture book which, with cover embellishments of pink flocking on the hippo, has been reprinted as an anniversary edition and collector’s item.

When Dad notices that there’s a hole in the roof, his very imaginative daughter decides that what’s causing it is a hippopotamus up above eating cake. When the child has a bath, she conjures up the hippopotamus on the roof having a shower. Then, when she cuts her knee and has stitches, she declares the big pink beast has a bandage on its knee, too. It also watches television on the roof and draws with crayons. Even when men fix the leaking roof, the little girl is convinced the hippopotamus will be back that night. No doubt it will be on the roof through all her childhood.

All young children are imaginative so it’s obvious why Edwards’ book has not only been in print for decades, but it’s evolved into a series of seven picture books and inspired a junior chapter book. It’s also led to the publication of play scripts, a musical and a short movie, not to mention being translated into Braille and Auslan (and more). Surely no other picture book in the world has been as popular as this one!

Of major appeal of this book are the simple, large, bright line and watercolour pictures by talented Niland. Her hippopotamus is not only pink but looks like a jolly creature that any child would adore. The animal is shown – huge and friendly – on even pages opposite text and illustrations of the little girl. The text is simple and so rhythmic it lends itself to multiple readings by parents or other carers.

How many decades more, one wonders, will the hippopotamus hang around to amuse and entertain young readers aged 4+ years? One can imagine that over the years, a girl grows to motherhood and then reads the book to her own children.

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