The Secret Rhino Society
Written by Jonathan E Jacobs
Art by Samantha Cotterill
A Hippo, a worm, and a lightbulb walk into a movie theater…
No punchline, that’s the beginning scene of The Secret Rhino Society.
Hudson, Fran, and Jean are best friends and share a love of rhinos. They are fascinated by how rhinos can charge and snort and have tough horns, in short, rhinos are cool. They each use their own strengths to work together to build their clubhouse but when someone comes knocking they’re a little embarrassed by the paper horns they are currently wearing.
In this tale of friendship we see them working together, snacking together, supporting each other, and also facing their own concepts of ideas they thought they had all figured out.
It’s an adorable slice of life story. There’s no big problem to overcome, everyone is kind and enthusiastic. A little confusion factors in, but no rudeness. It’s about the characters, first and foremost.
The art is unique. It’s not a style I often see in picture books, but it’s executed excellently. It does a great job of focusing the reader onto the characters, but also draws the eye across the page. It’s not a fast flipper, it’s one you want to soak up.
I would suggest it’s best for ages 3-5, but it holds appeal to older picture book readers as well.
–There will be “spoilers” from here on out as I talk writing. You are warned.
One thing that surprised me was how untraditional the structure was. I touched on that a bit by saying it has no “big problem” but that doesn’t convey the concept entirely.
It starts with loving rhinos, so the friends make a clubhouse to celebrate their love of rhinos. Then they meet a rhino and find out rhinos aren’t really any different from themselves. They invite said rhino in for sandwiches then decide to open a sandwich shop because sandwiches are their favorite part of having a club (sandwiches weren’t mentioned until multiple pages in). And it ends with happy friends serving sandwiches.
For most modern picture books the main problem is introduced by a couple pages in, there’s some struggle to solve it, but at the last page (or second to last) everything ties up and ties back to the opening or main problem.
That’s a very simplistic explanation, I apologize, but you get the gist.
Part of having rules or tropes or patterns is knowing when to use them, when to tweak them, and when to break them. And Secret Rhino Society breaks that pattern to good effect. It’s one of the most popular books in the house right now.