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Is this giant hippopotamus mama the model for the Hungry Hungry Hippo game where four plastic hippos chomp on marbles? Or the friendly little hippo who stomps around looking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the “The Hungry Hippo.” Or maybe that cute stuffed animal you bought at the zoo for the little one in your life. 

I DON’T THINK SO! This female is more like the hippo that chased my son and me down the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Luckily our guide had the good sense to take us in a boat with more horsepower than hippo power. 

Hippos are fierce territorialists, fast runners, especially in the water where they glide off of rocks, and they won’t be chomping on marbles if they get ahold of a trespasser traipsing around in their waters. They are huge, females weigh in at about 3000lbs, and males can weigh up to 9000lbs. These beasts have tusks and teeth and can crush a human in half. In fact, statistically, hippos kill more humans than any other animal in Sub-Saharan Africa. And unlike the cute little hippos in kid lit, they don’t smile. They are grumpy, grumbly grunters, and definitely not gentle. And the word cute does not come to mind when I think of hippos - well, the babies are cute.

So why do the authors and illustrators of picture books for little children depict wild, untamed, and dangerous animals as sweet, friendly playthings that look like they want a hug and a cuddle? What madness is this? What’s the point? Why lead kids to believe wild animals are charming when, in reality, the real ones would cut their little lives short if the opportunity arose.  

Anthropomorphism in kid lit and kid games is something to think about, for sure. Maybe if animals are infused with “nice” human characteristics, kids will be nicer. Maybe sparing them from the truth is good for them until they can handle the truth. But, heck, having been in the bush a lot, I can’t handle the truth, especially when I see things I can’t erase from my memory. The cruel but necessary circle of life. 

Well, except for hippos, they won’t eat you; they’ll just kill you because you happen to get in their way!

#hippos #lastdaysinsouthafrica #kidlit #anthropomorphism #writing #personalessays


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