Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Waleed Does the Jungle

Waleed, the Skinny Hippo, is off on another adventure. This one is full of dark shadows, scary eyes and strange thumping sounds off in the distance. All the ingredients wrapped around another enlightening tale for our loveable hippo. This new theme is one that’s been a thorn in my side since birth. The old familiar refrain from that older generation to mine that counters the truth: That is, that ‘being afraid doesn’t make you a coward’ and ‘strange sounds can be scary’ to very young imaginations.

This new Waleed story idea came into focus last fall. But truth be told, it had been hiding in the shadows of my mind for a very long time. Since its first publication, Waleed, the Skinny Hippo, book # 1, (Being Different) has been searching for a home. Individual purchases have been nice but I was looking a larger audience. I decided that having a second book in the series might make both stories more attractive to potential buyers.

The first Waleed book discussed the feeling of ‘being different from others.’ This second book would discuss ‘facing one’s fears.’ Without a lot of fanfare and deep thought, this second story also evolved into a children’s moral tale that I hoped might strike a chord of interest with children and their parents.

For as long as I can remember, my parent’s generation thought that ignoring a child’s fear or dismissing their concerns about scary things was the right approach to take. That generation wanted us kids to ‘man up’ and face our fears. That monster under our bed didn’t exist and we should know that. Hesitation and stage fright and being uncomfortable in front of others was a challenge to be faced and/or ignored but never addressed in a caring, comforting way. As young as I was, I knew that was bullshit but never had the courage to challenge my elder’s stance on it.

As with the first Waleed book, I wanted this new book to have strong, bright colors, cute animals, and attractive surroundings. Authenticity was important in that all the animals had to be indigenous to the location of the story. In this case, the story takes place in a dark, scary jungle.

Years before, I had initially worked with an illustrator who created one cover illustration which I loved. Unfortunately, over the ensuing months, nothing much happened in terms of creating this children’s story. Fast forward to a drought in my writing projects a while back and my editor, Vida, suggested we revisit my children’s story about the little hippo that couldn’t face the fact that he was different from his fellow hippos.

Back then, Vida and I found 92 different illustrators from five web sites to review. That, in turn, was whittled down to four characters I really liked. Finally, we settled on two artists who seemed to meet my criteria of a drawing of a cute and cuddly little skinny hippo.

Waleed, in Swahili, means ‘he who hides.’ That, in turn, seemed the perfect male’s name that best described someone who was an introvert and afraid of his own shadow. The name matched perfectly my loveable tiny hippopotamus.

The final winner was an artist out of Bangladesh who goes by the artist’s name of Shamima. Her drawing of little Waleed won my heart over. When we were ready for a second book in the Waleed series, Shamima readily agreed to draw it for us.

Marketing is always the Achilles heel for many writers, present company included. A couple of years ago, I entered Waleed in the Minnesota Children’s Book Festival in Red Wing and got some nice comments but no prize. Then I thought a very nice article our local newspaper published last summer might spur some interest but it didn’t.

So, this spring, another new marketing campaign will attempt to bring the story of Waleed, the Skinny Hippo to youthful populations in the Twin Cities and beyond. Waleed just might be the little hippo that shows all of us a new way of looking at life.

There’s even a third book idea edging its way into my consciousness, ‘Being kind.’ But that’s shaping up to be another story entirely.

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