Hippo loves eating cheeseburgers for breakfast, hates taking baths, is afraid of spiders, and gets spooked by thunderstorms. Luckily he has a best friend in Rabbit, who is something of the anchor to the rocky boat that is Hippo’s life, even if Rabbit himself can sometimes display many of the same foibles as his big buddy. The two pals complement each other nicely, and it’s little wonder why they are so inseparable.
Aimed at beginning readers, Jeff Mack’s new series is sure to delight, and it provides a perfect mix of inviting visuals and charming scenarios. Mack’s lively illustrations reinforce the amusing dialogue, which appropriately mixes familiar sight words with more challenging vocabulary terms like “balloon,” “lightning,” and the aforementioned “cheeseburger.” Hippo and Rabbit’s energetic expressions and exaggerated mannerisms further serve to clarify the stories’ plots.
Mack demonstrates intelligent restraint in his artwork, limiting the amount of detail so as to put the focus on the characters above all else. In fact, the drawings are so much simpler from those found in his other works that it took me a while to realize Mack was the same artist who previously illustrated books like Linda Ashman’s Rub-a-Dub Sub and Eve Bunting’s Hurry! Hurry! For Hippo and Rabbit, Mack uses dark, saturated hues and gives each tale its own dominant color scheme, which helps readers discern between the different stories. The layout, which consists of one or two panels per page, is clear enough that children should have no difficulty following along.
Every tale focuses on a specific theme, such as eating healthy or being afraid, and they all end with a cute gag or twist. The stories may be short, but kids will likely want to read them over and over just for the humorous payoff they each provide. Hippo and Rabbit’s back-and-forth banter brings to mind the famous routines of comedy duos such as Abbott & Costello, and their tight bond of friendship and lovable imperfections will definitely please children who have become attached to the likes of James Marshall’s George and Martha series or Mo Willem’s Elephant & Piggie books.
Friendship is an integral part of child development, so seeing positive examples of best buddies supporting one another is beneficial to little readers. Hippo and Rabbit will reassure kids that nobody is perfect and we all have shortcomings, but by building strong friendships we can work together to rise above the challenges we face, no matter how small they may seem. It’s hard not to fall in love with Hippo and Rabbit, and the series is a worthwhile addition to any collection of materials for beginning readers.