________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 7 . . . . November 23, 2007


The Blue Hippopotamus.

Phoebe Gilman. Based on a story by Joan Grant. Illustrated by Joanne Fitzgerald.
Toronto, ON: North Winds Press / Scholastic Canada, 2007.
32 pp., hardcover, $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-439-95260-6.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Alison Mews.

**** /4


One evening, Mery-Am picked him up and stroked him gently. He felt a tear splash on his back. "Dear little hippopotamus," she said. "You are lucky to be made of clay. You don't know what it feels like to be lonely. How I wish my own true love would find me." Then she put him down and blew out her lamp.

Hapu lay awake in the darkness. "I can never be Mery-Am's own true love. I can not make her happy."

Then he remembered: "I still have my wish."

He thought of basking in the sun and talking to his friends. He could almost taste the crisp, green plants on his tongue and feel the squishy mud between his toes. "I could be my old self again, or..."

He sighed and wished his one wish. "May Mery-Am find her own true love, and may they live happily ever after."


This charming tale of an unselfish act rewarded is set in ancient Egypt. Based on an original story by Joan Grant, it was retold by the late Phoebe Gilman and has now been superbly illustrated by Joanne Fitzgerald, a previous Governor General's Award winner who has also received a 2007 nomination for these illustrations.

internal art

     In the story, a little hippopotamus named Hapu became entranced with a human child who happened to be the Pharaoh's young daughter, Mery-Am. Hoping to be transformed into a boy, Hapu sought the help of a kindly magician who instead turned him into a blue toy hippo. Mery-Am was delighted with the toy hippo and spent many years happily playing with him. But as she became a young lady, she outgrew her desire for toys and pined instead for a true love. When the little hippo heard this, he decided to use the wish that the magician had given him to regain his true shape, and he wished for her happiness. So poor Hapu remained a toy, and Mery-Am found her prince. On her wedding day, the toy hippo was broken, and Hapu was released. Drifting free for some time, he fell asleep until he "awoke" to a new existence as Mery-Am's newborn baby.

     Using a combination of watercolour, gouache and coloured pencil, Joanne Fitzgerald has created an early Egyptian environment in which magical transformations seem entirely plausible. She incorporates many Egyptian motifs in the decorative items and repeats floral and avian images, especially that of the heron, an Egyptian symbol for rebirth. She uses a soft colour palette that reflects the quiet nature of this story. Her penultimate triptych illustration of Hapu floating as a cloud that gradually reforms into the shape of an infant child foreshadows the final illustration of the new parents proudly gazing at their baby. Questions of reincarnation aside, this is a gentle bedtime book to share.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is Co-ordinator of the Centre for Instructional Services, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, in St. John's, NL.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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