Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Thursday, October 6, 2022

Thursday, October 6, 2022: Dedicated Issue: Hippo Park

Hippo Park: Welcome to Hippo Park

Editors' Note

Hippo Park

With the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates the new Astra Publishing House children's book imprint, Hippo Park.

Hippo Park: How to Draw a Happy Cat by Ethan T. Berlin, illustrated by Jimbo Matison

Books & Authors

Introduction to Hippo Park from Editorial Director Jill Davis

Jill Davis

Jill Davis has held editorial positions at Random House, Penguin, Bloomsbury, FSG and HarperCollins, and is celebrating her 30th year in children's book publishing by launching a new imprint at Astra Publishing House. Hippo Park books are for all ages up through middle grade and tween and will include mostly humorous picture books and graphic novels. She lives in New York City and Long Island with her husband and has two grown sons.

Welcome to Hippo Park! Our debut list reflects the joyful, surprising, often befuddling and endlessly fascinating world our children live in. We want to make the kind of books kids ask for again and again--with stories that tickle their funny bones, respect their intelligence and support their need for emotional connection. Our focus is on what children see and feel when they open up our books and look inside--words and ideas that are funny, silly and often true, and illustrations that convey emotion when words might not. We like to say that we take silly seriously, and we hope our books will bring children wonder and delight. --Jill Davis

Hippo Park: A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brandon James Scott

Daniel Bernstrom and Brandon James Scott: A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree

Daniel Bernstrom

Daniel Bernstrom is an accidental picture book writer. He repeated first grade because he could not read. Today, Bernstrom writes picture books that have been nominated for several state reading awards, and he teaches as a full-time English instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

Brandon James Scott

By day, Brandon James Scott is a Creative Director working in animation; by night, he illustrates picture books. For more than a decade, Brandon has worked on a range of animated entertainment including his own creation, the award-winning series, Justin Time. A born and raised Canadian, he lives with his family in Toronto.

Below the two creators discuss their sly and snappy picture book A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree.

Daniel Bernstrom: Brandon, you were on vacation. Welcome back!

Brandon James Scott: Thanks! I got back from taking my family to a cottage--which, as a Canadian, is a must-do thing each summer. Going in the lake, campfires... it's the best.

Bernstrom: I did that a few times. I remember roughing it out in the Alaskan wilderness for a week. Caught salmon from the stream, fought off mosquitoes, avoided bears, canoed down the river. Scarred me forever.

Scott: What are you talking about, that sounds amazing. Wait. Did you say bears?

Bernstrom: Yep, saw a couple. Why--do you like bears?

Scott: I think of all the animals that you might run into out there in the world, the bear is just so strong and demands respect. I also like how they look when they're grumpy.

Bernstrom: I love your grumpy bear drawings. What got you started in illustrating?

Scott: When I was young, I loved to draw. And I realized early that the more I did it, the better I got. I became the "art guy" in elementary class and I stuck with it.

Bernstrom: I love how funny your art is. There are little jokes everywhere. Are you funny in real life?

Scott: I'll say I find it very hard to take most things seriously. 

Bernstrom: I keep hearing that our book's ending is "controversial." Explain why?

Scott: Well, the ending feels just right to me. However, it isn't spelled out--you have to look closely at the last page to get the full story. (Dun-dun-dunnnn.)

Bernstrom: For my part, I wanted the promise of resolution: the bear going back for the honey. But I knew for the ending to work, the illustrator needed to see things his way. You did just that. I remember when our editor Jill Davis said, "There needs to be a bear on the last page." I said, "Jill, look closer." The surprise was exhilarating.

Scott: And that reminds me how supportive and collaborative you were. It's a joy as an illustrator to be able to bring your own extras through images. I wanted to thank you--and Jill and art director Amelia Mack--for that!

Bernstrom: I think artists see so much. That's why I felt it important to not get in the way. Speaking of Amelia, what's it like working with her?

Scott: Amelia was awesome--she was involved in a wonderful way to make the story stronger. Sometimes when you're at the picture stage you can get caught up with "does this look good" or "can this look different" but taking a step back even further and asking "does this support the story" is the most important thing, always.

Bernstrom: I remember you two focusing on the eyes of the bear and bee to tell so much of the story. Or was that your idea?

Scott: We talked about that a lot. Eyes are such a big part of characters. One thing I love to do is to make a character's eyes say something different than what the text might imply, just to add another little dimension. Bears, bees... we're all complicated. What was it like working with Jill?

Bernstrom: Working with Jill is like taking a masterclass in picture book writing. She'll never let me get by with a "sloppy" or "redundant" word. She wants every word to glow, and every word needs a VERY good reason to be there. She works with the author to make that happen. She also loves making books funnier.

Scott: She's so great. Do you think we'll see any other adventures for this bear?

Bernstrom: I hope so! I have five or six bear ideas. He's such a fun character, especially after you made him come alive. You game for illustrating more? 

Scott: Have you seen my art? Half of my work has bears in it.

Bernstrom: If we do another, I'll have to visit you in Canada, and you can show me what's so fun about the outdoors.

Scott: Deal. We'll call it field research.

Hippo Park: Herbert on the Slide (Hippo Park Pals) by Rilla Alexander

Rilla Alexander: The Right Mix of Personality and Fun

Rilla Alexander

Rilla Alexander is an Australian-born, Los Angeles based designer, illustrator and picture book maker whose work has appeared on everything from toys and teacups to buses and buildings. Here Alexander discusses creating the Hippo Park logo and the Hippo Park Pals series.

Would you please tell our readers about the Hippo Park Pals books? 

Hippo Park Pals are a series of tiny books for preschoolers. The first four books are set in a playground and are about what it feels like to summon the courage to go down the slide, or to choose a new shovel in the sandbox when someone takes the one you wanted. They're also about imagination--turning into a swooshing rainbow on the swing or transforming into an upside-down roller coaster on the climbing frame. 

You have a special relationship with Hippo Park: you are the creator of the Hippo Park Pals series as well as the person who designed the Hippo Park imprint logo. Which came first? The books or the logo?

The logo! I became friends with Hippo Park's art director Amelia Mack while she was at Chronicle Books. We worked together on the Touchwords series, Motor Mix books and Jane Yolen's A Bear Sat on My Porch Today. When she and Jill Davis were getting started with plans for Hippo Park, they asked me to have a think about the logo. They explained that Hippo Park was about play and a space to be creative, spontaneous and silly. They also shared stories and photographs of the real Hippo Park playground on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which inspired the name--Jill raised her two boys nearby and often took them there.

Jill and Amelia were not convinced that the logo absolutely had to include a hippo, but amongst the sketches I did for them, there was a hippo who caught their attention. He had the right mix of personality and fun, was drawn loosely and simply in pencil and Jill immediately knew his name was Herbert. 

How did you go about making the logo into the Pals character?

While I finalized the logo and made sure it worked on such things as book spines and posters, we put our heads together to think more about who Herbert was. We decided that as a preschooler he would have been curious and imaginative and would have adventures in Hippo Park. That's when the idea for the books came about.

We named Herbert's sister Fiona after the baby hippo at Cincinnati Zoo. Coincidentally, I have a sister named Fiona. Herbert carries a teddy bear, who he sends down the slide first, because my other sister Emily told me that's what my nephew did when he was a preschooler.

Amelia suggested that rather than make board books we should make tiny full length picture books with dust jackets. Jill and I were very keen. I've got to say, everything from the logo to the books has been a true collaboration!

You also created the branding style guide for the imprint. Is this something with which you have previous experience? How was it approaching your characters as marketing and publicity materials?

I spent much of my early career focusing on designing corporate identities for companies, big and small. No matter the company, I always found it impossible to design a logo and all the applications without also designing a character. It became something I was known for, and I have since designed characters that have been made into a mascot costume for an international airport, used on the signage and interiors of a kid's science laboratory and turned into toys and merchandise. I like seeing my characters come to life in all forms, but especially in stories. The best part, though, is seeing kids fall in love with them and drawing their own versions. I very much hope that happens with Herbert and Fiona.

A Peek at Hippo Park's First List with Editorial Director Jill Davis

Jill Davis talks about what she loves about each of the books on the inaugural list.

A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illus. by Brandon James Scott (Hippo Park, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-7, 9781662640087, November 1, 2022)

Brandon James Scott's young, funny and lush artwork paired with Daniel Bernstrom's spare, rhyming text is going to steal hearts! The text and illustration work as one, making A Bear, a Bee, and a Honey Tree feel like an animated short. It's definitely a crowd-pleaser for story time: a classic read aloud in a nice big trim size with delicious characters that really pop and anchor the appealing art.

Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork by Constance Lombardo, illus. by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson (Hippo Park, $18.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9781662640063, October 18, 2022)

I'm delighted to share the bubble gum colors and comic ebullience of Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork. This is a book about how rivalry can lead organically to teamwork--hoorah! It's also my fifth book with the marvelous Constance Lombardo, which is very much worth celebrating. 

How to Draw a Happy Cat by Ethan T. Berlin, illus. by Jimbo Matison (Hippo Park, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781662640049, October 4, 2022)

The book takes the form of a drawing lesson that goes off the rails when Cat--who's been drawn with a happy face--WON'T STAY HAPPY! And now you, the reader, have to fix it! A gentle and mischievous narrator pulls you along, and also pulls your chain! For all the action-packed laughs and screw-ball fun in this book, there's also a social emotional message that even the grown-ups will appreciate: How burdensome it can be to take on the task of making others happy!

Come On In: There's a Party in this Book! by Jamie Michalak, illus. by Sabine Timm (Hippo Park, $18.99, hardcover, 40 p., ages 4-8, 9781662640001, September 20, 2022)

Just look at this cover with its peek-through window for dear, sweet Lemon. Come On In is the dessert of this launch list. The conceit: Lemon really wants to go to the big party, but each time she opens a door, there's a small group of... cats in boots! Or fruits in suits! But they're celebrating all by themselves! So, where's the party where everyone is together, mixing it all up and having a blast? After arriving at home, sad and alone, she has an idea of her own--to shake up the book and shout COME ON IN! And all the creatures from behind the doors "come on in" for one big unforgettable fiesta! Sabine Timm's photographs of fruits, cakes, bread creatures and all types of miniatures have earned her almost 170,000 Instagram followers and I knew I had to find a collaborator for her. I was so happy when Jamie Michalak created a story for Lemon that brings her and her friends to life.

Herbert on the Slide by Rilla Alexander (Hippo Park, $9.99, hardcover, 24p., ages 2-5, 9781662640117, October 25, 2022)

This is the start of an adorable series called the Hippo Park Pals. We were so smitten with Herbert, the handsome hippo created by Rilla Alexander for our logo, that we suggested a series to Rilla. We considered the ecosystem of the playground and our audience emerged as 2-to-5-year-olds who, now walking and talking, are desperate for independence. We knew these weren't board books for chewing on, they had to be precious, special and make little kids feel big. Each book has a dust jacket with flaps, and 24 pages of a satisfying story.

Hippo Park: Tiny Spoon vs. Little Fork by Constance Lombardo, illustrated by Dan Abdo and Jason Patterson

Hippo Park: Come on in: There's a Party in This Book! by Jamie Michalak, illustrated by Sabine Timm

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