Anyone who has taken a safari into the wilds of Africa knows that hippos and birds go together like peas in a pod… and now we know why! It’s all about the annual fancy dress party…

The narrators of this delightful tale are the somewhat grumpy hippo, Hugo, and chirpy bird, Bella, and they are the perfect double act. Like any long-partnered couple, they verbally jostle, interrupting one another, finishing each other’s statements, making a mockery of one another’s ideas, and taking offence at every subtle (or not-so-subtle) suggestion that is made as they attempt to settle upon which classic character combo they will be for the annual fancy dress party. Perhaps a mermaid and her rock? Or a Princess and Her Pea? It all becomes too much and there is tragedy and tears before a happy compromise is found.

Author Ann Bonwill’s masterful mix of idioms and fairytales is brought to life with illustrator Simon Rickerty’s simply rendered characters that deliver subtle and witty details

For example, when Bella decides Hugo would be an ideal pumpkin, she paints him in brilliant orange – later, when Hugo stands in his shower, all sad and tearful, the orange paint runs down his cheeks and is washed away down the plughole.

Simon started illustrating children’s books in 2009 (if you discount the illustrations he drew for himself in his own childhood). Oddly enough – or perhaps there is a theme – his first book was called Peas!, for which he was shortlisted for the Best New Emerging Illustrator category in the Book Trust Early Years Award that same year.

Perhaps it is because of her experience teaching Montessori or even as an autism therapist that Bonwill seems to know just how to keep creative pace, and the characters take on a life of their own. Whilst Bonwill is the author of four children’s books, this pairing with Rickerty is definitely the most fun, and the characters of Hugo and Bella are bound to become favourites at bedtime (and any other time of the day, for that matter). Every little Princess – and pumpkin, mermaid, rock and pea too – will love this tale. According to our ‘definitive’ toddler research, the passion for this tale can start as early as 18 months and continue well into school age.

BEDTIME READING FUN On the inside front and back covers of this book, a Warholesque series of birds and hippos alternate in colourful squares… For the youngest readers, we recommend a rhythmic point-and-state rap of ‘bird/hippo/bird/hippo/bird/hippo/…’ with silence on the final ‘bird’ to inspire some pre- or post-story participation.