It’s not easy to hide if you are a hippopotamus, but that doesn’t stop Harry from trying. His misguided attempts to blend in with the scenery make two new board books by New Orleans author and illustrator Kenny Harrison as much fun for parents as they are for the toddlers that the books target.
“Hide and Seek Harry at the Beach” and “Hide and Seek Harry around the House” were released by Candlewick Press just a couple of weeks ago and have already attracted national attention. Amazon named “At the Beach” to its list of “Best Books of the Month” for the baby-to-age-2 audience.
“Picture books were the first art form I knew,” said Harrison, an accomplished freelance illustrator whose work appears in The Times-Picayune. “I’m dyslexic, so grown-ups had to read the books to me when I was little. I’m drawn to create children’s books because they are stories told with only a few words and plenty of visuals.”
Harrison said he first tried his hand at illustrating children’s books when he was in college but felt then that the experience wasn’t what he hoped it would be.
“I put it aside but always felt that I would illustrate children’s books one day when the time was right,” he said. Now that his children are grown (Rachel is an art therapist, and Max aims to be a firefighter), Harrison has found he has more time to devote to his book projects. “Still, it’s crazy how many hours go into a 50-word book,” he said.
The “Harry” books aren’t Harrison’s first to be published. In 2002, “How I Became Champion of the Universe” came out and combined Harrison’s visual and storytelling skills. Since then, he has worked on several additional projects.
“But Harry happened faster,” he said. “Candlewick Press went for it right away.”
Harrison credits his wife Michelle, a pre-school teacher, and son Max for planting the seeds for the Harry series.
“I remember being on a date with Michelle, and she wanted to show me the only thing she knew how to draw: A hippo doing a hand stand. It was such a ridiculous image, and it stuck with me,” Harrison said. “And Max thought when he was little that no one could see him if his face was hidden, so he was terrible at hide and seek. Somehow, those two things combined to make Harry.”
Two additional books in the series are scheduled to come out in 2015, and Harrison says they may be the last readers will see of the guileless hippo and his misadventures.
“But who knows?” said Harrison. “Maybe Harry can learn to play other games.”
Stephanie Bruno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.