What to Do If You Stumble on a Hippopotamus
A ‘self-help collection’ for children, in which every poem is another lesson
‘Poems that will be of some use to you’ is the subtitle of this textually and visually multi-faceted collection of poetry by Edward van de Vendel and Martijn van der Linden.
The poet and the artist have compiled a ‘self-help collection’ for children, in which every poem is another lesson. The titles of the poems include ‘What to do if your train is delayed’ and ‘What to do if someone has died and you didn’t know them very well.’ And, of course, ‘What to do if you stumble on a hippopotamus’. The advice in that case is: say sorry and then shovel in so many sweets that the next hippos you encounter have to get out of your way.
The two poems that advise you what to do when you’re in love subtly mislead the young reader: if you want to woo a boy, play really loud tunes on the recorder, and if you want to win a girl’s heart, build an insect hotel: ‘Everyone knows girls get a kick out of creepy-crawlies, don’t they?’ The irony should be clear, because Van de Vendel’s real lesson here is that it’s wise to keep thinking for yourself. That’s something that really will be of some use.
The texts are as varied in style and emotion as the illustrations by Martijn van der Linden. In addition to the funny, ironic poems, the collection also includes heartfelt, touching poems, like one about a forgetful grandfather and a sad mother (‘When she feels she can lean on you for a moment / a bit of the trouble washes / out of her head’). That makes this book a collection that demonstrates exactly what characterizes Edward van de Vendel’s oeuvre: he takes children seriously, nudging his readers towards happiness, but they have to take those steps themselves:
You want to conquer climbing problems
so that by and by
you can stand
in the blue
of the sky.