Did you know there is a bird that hops into a crocodile’s mouth to help clean the fearsome creature’s teeth? Did you know there is a small crab that scares away predators by using sea anemones like a cheerleader’s pom poms? In How to Clean a Hippopotamus, Robin Page and Steve Jenkins offer a concept book that gives young readers a glimpse into symbiosis.
Page and Jenkins have covered a topic sure to lure readers. Animal books are popular with children, and the concept of animals helping each other when they might otherwise be predator and prey will be particularly fascinating to children. The text is fairly simple and on a second grade reading level, although older elementary age children will also enjoy this title. Significant words such as an animal’s name or an action are printed in bold text. For example, “The tuatara is nocturnal. It sleeps during the day and hunts at night” (Page 2010). Over 20 symbiotic animal relationships are shown. At the end of the book, there is a thoughtful look at the relationship between humans and dogs.
The illustrations are cut and torn paper collages, although I did not realize it during my first reading of the book. “Jenkins’s trademark collage illustrations continue to impress with their vibrant and stunning manipulation of cut and torn paper” (Dean 2006). Jenkins work is truly stunning in its intricacy and detail. The images are arranged in panels like a graphic novel, accompanied by floating text and colored text boxes that are easy to read and never overwhelm the images. Each animal pairing has a clever title, such as “Wider, Please,” in which the Egyptian plover picks meat from a Nile crocodile’s teeth.
The last three pages present information about different types of symbiotic relationships, such as parasitism and commensualism. There are also thumbnail images of each page, with descriptions of the size, habitat, and diet of each animal. A list of suggested titles can be found beneath the copyright information. This 2001 ALA Notable Book for Children may read on a second grade level, but it is appropriate for even younger children as a means of discussing the animal world. In your classroom or storytime at your library, ask the kids to list any symbiotic relationships they can think of. Here is a fun craft idea: using either pre-cut animal shapes or the children’s own drawings, ask kids to make up their own symbiotic relationships and describe how the animals might help each other.
Dean, Kara Schaff. April 2010. School Library Journal. http://ezproxy.twu.edu:2125/DetailedView.aspx?hreciid=|28858056|27775879&mc=USA#. Accessed October 22, 2013.