It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote about board books here at Kirkus, having taken a look at Belle Yang’s latest offerings. I’ve got one more today, because when I see board books this good, I feel compelled to wave them around in the faces of anyone who will listen.
Opposite books for children, whether in board book or picture book form, are a dime a dozen. Much like alphabet books, it’s hard to be original when trying one’s hand at it. Consider Janik Coat’s Hippopposites a breath of fresh air. This is a concept book, board book (larger than your average board book), and opposite book, which stars a red hippopotamus. The book stands out as much as its prodigious and quite immovable protagonist.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on 'Homer' by Elisha Cooper.
You know how opposite books work. Here we have our standard “small, large”; “soft, rough”; and “light, dark.” But Janik dares to be different, giving us an “opaque, transparent”; “positive, negative”; “cleary, blurry”; and even a “free, caged.” So, right off the bat we have some good, crunchy words for wee children (the aforementioned “opaque,” as well as the “invisible” paired with “visible”), along with the types of concept pairings you don’t see in your typical board book fare.
But it’s Janik’s delivery that is so entertaining. The simply outlined, never-moving hippo utters not a word, nor does he ever attempt to crack a joke, yet there still exists a wry humor about the whole endeavor here. Maybe it’s the slightly absurd humor of this heavy, ponderous creature showing up “in front” of a tree and then suddenly “behind.” Or the bunny that appears in the window of the house through which our hippo transpires, looking utterly shocked at his disappearance. Or perhaps it’s his trip in a hot air balloon on the “light, heavy” spread.
It’s probably that everything is done to him, as he merely continues to glare at readers.
But I feel quite sure it’s this spread:
Now, that’s just funny.
Janik quite creatively mucks with the hippo’s features—using primarily white and bright red with only occasional color switch-ups—to teach children about opposites: There’s a bold moment of invisibility (nothing needed but lots of red space); he gets blurred in the “clear, blurry” spread; and he even gets “dotted” and then “striped” in the most visually arresting spread of them all.
With this smooth and savvy design, Janik—a French author, illustrator and graphic designer—brings a European sophistication and sensibility to the board book. Originally published in 2010, we see this translated edition this year, thanks to Appleseed Books, an imprint of Abrams.
All ends well for the disgruntled-looking protagonist on the “alone, together” spread, where he’s joined by a tiny, purple bird.
Given this new friend, I can only hope for a follow-up title from Janik. Synonyms, infinitives, gerunds, conjunctive adverbs: I think she could make just about any of them interesting.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.
HIPPOPPOSITES. Copyright © 2010 by Janik Coat. Translation copyright © 2012 by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Spread reproduced with permission of the publisher.