Ben has lived alone with his mom ever since his father died when he was little. When an invitation to a mysterious, odd museum called The Gee Museum arrives addressed to him, it stirs up a vague memory of time spent with his father – and sets his mother on edge, although she won’t say why. Ben goes to the old museum and meets a group of talking animals, all waiting for him. They tell him that the museum is in danger, and he’s the only one who can save it – the proprietress is old and tired of keeping it going, and the people she’s considering selling it to – a greedy landlord who’s also trying to force Ben’s mom out of business and their home, and a rival museum’s director who plans to scavenge the most valuable pieces and junk the rest – don’t have the Gee’s best interests at heart. As Ben unravels the secrets of the Gee, and the mysterious hippo and his place among all the animals, he finds answers about his father and his family that will fill a missing piece he’s lived with for too long.
The Hippo at the End of the Hall is an steadily building tale that blends the fantastic with a story of family and of memory. Ben and his mom are likable characters that stick together, even when one’s annoyed at the other: kind of like real moms and kids, right? The animals have individual personalities that set them apart from one another and bring them right into the story, and the human characters have history that’s never completely given away, yet feel fully formed and built up – Helen Cooper leaves us to wonder and imagine the wonderful adventures that took place before we joined the group. The black-and-white illustrations throughout add a vintage feel to the atmosphere, bringing the Gee Museum to life under your fingertips. Magical museums and magical creatures, two terrible baddies, and a family putting itself back together make this a book to booktalk to your Jumanji fans, your Night at the Museum fans (schedule a showing of the movies!), and your magical realism fans.
Helen Cooper is a two-time Kate Greenway medalist. This is her first novel. You can find more about Ms. Cooper, including her bibliography, at her author website.