Listen hippo! by Gabriel Evans

cover image

When Billy is feeling sad, all he wants to do is talk to someone. But his best friend, Hippo thinks he knows what Billy wants, beginning a journey of doing things that perhaps make him smile but in the end do not get to the core of the problem. He initially suggests that they dress up, Hippo donning a rooster costume and Billy a dragon one. Billy feels a little less sad, but Hippo says he still looks sad, so tries something else. This time they go dancing in the falling blossoms, and yes Billy feels less sad, but trying again to tell Hippo what he really wants, he is cut off. Hippo takes Billy on a pirate ship for an adventure. That does not cheer him up, so Hippo takes him on a flying carpet. When this does not work he tries to throw a party, but Billy is nowhere to be seen.

Hippo finds him and when Billy says that he does not want a party or a dinosaur or a magic carpet or to dance in the blossom, he just wants someone to talk to.  So Hippo goes off and collects his fluffy quilt, makes two hot chocolates with extra marshmallow and sits on the couch with Billy.

Billy talks and talks and Hippo listens. He tells him about how he feels, like autumn leaves about to fall or careering over a waterfall, his stomach feeling like midnight. When he finishes talking he feels a little better, his sadness like a distant echo. And the hug that Hippo gives him is the best antidote after all the talking.

Hippo promises to always listen and be there for his friend.

An easily absorbed tale about feeling sad will touch many kids’ hearts as they recall times they have felt sad and simply needed a friendly hug and someone to listen. A gentle, comforting read about sadness will appeal to readers as they identify with Billy and his feelings, and also feel sympathy for Hippo as he tries to comfort Billy, but missing the mark until Billy tells him to listen.

The beautifully understated watercolour and pencil drawings capture Billy’s time on the couch, just wanting someone to listen. I loved the title page with the range of toys, and the hippo in the middle, waiting to be of use, with the other toys being part of the solutions offered by Hippo.

Author/illustrator Gabriel Evans from Western Australia, has been published internationally. Blue Flower by Sonya Hartnett, was his first picture book with Penguin Random House, and was shortlisted for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year in 2022. His second, A Friend for George, was published in 2023, and  Listen, Hippo! released in 2024.

More about Gabriel and his work can be found here.

Themes: Loneliness, Depression, Friendship, Comfort.

Fran Knight