Fiona – Cincinnati’s favorite baby

Fiona

My encounter with Fiona.

It was love at first sight. Sure, I knew Fiona was cute, but when I saw her floating serenely during a snooze, I was hooked.

My kiddos? Not so much.

“Look at the cute fish in there with her!” they shrieked, rushing past the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s 570 pound baby.

I thought they were crazy but maybe they were on to something. In WCPO community reporter Lucy May and WCPO cartoonist Kevin Necessary‘s new book, “My Best Friend Fiona” Trixie the Tilapia is the narrator. The book will be published by WCPO and a portion of the proceeds go to the Zoo.

book mockup for website copy

I’ve had the privilege of working with WCPO community reporter Lucy for many years. She’s an excellent writer and fair reporter. I jumped on the chance to talk to her about the book about Cincinnati’s favorite baby.

Here’s our converstion. (Kevin said Lucy covered my questions and gave this a thumbs up!)

How did the book come about?
WCPO’s General Manager, Jeff Brogan, came up with the idea. He sent an email to one of our bosses that basically said: Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do a children’s book on Fiona and have it ready in time for the holidays? Lucy could write it, and Kevin could illustrate it. And the idea took off from there.
 
Do you have a favorite Fiona story? Any personal interactions with her?
I have been a Fiona fanatic since the day the zoo announced her birth. I was lucky to go to the media preview that the zoo hosted one evening when Fiona was first starting to swim in Hippo Cove. I was trying to get a selfie with Hippo Cove in the background, and when I turned around, I was face-to-face with my favorite hippo!

She was staring right at me, and I literally squealed and fell to my knees, losing any appearance of journalistic objectivity.

I know she’s too big for it now, but I would still love to get in the pool and swim with her. 
 
Have you and Kevin worked together before?
Yes! Kevin and I first collaborated in 2016 on a comics journalism style story called Childhood Saved. That turned into a series of three stories, and we completed the third one earlier this year – just weeks before we started on the book.
Kevin_and_Lucy_with_toy_hippo

Kevin and Lucy bring a stuffed Fiona to the office.

Did you get to work with Cincinnati Zoo as part of your research process? 
Our editor, Tasha Stewart, coordinated with the zoo from the start to make sure the folks there were on board with our telling Fiona’s story in a children’s book. People at the zoo got to read the story and see the illustrations before anyone else outside of WCPO. Fortunately, they decided to carry the book in the zoo’s gift shops after it is published. But honestly we didn’t need to do too much additional research because the zoo has been sharing so much information about Fiona, and I have been following her story closely.
Fiona book

Fiona was only 29 pounds at birth.

 
What’s your favorite thing about Fiona?
My favorite thing about Fiona is that she has been able to give people hope – hope about how preemies can beat the odds and how communities can come together for a common cause.

She has been a daily dose of happiness and hope at a time with a lot of division and nastiness in the world.

What do your children  think about your book?
My daughters are 21 and 16. They both love Fiona and are excited about the book. Trixie the Tilapia, who is the narrator of the story, is actually named after my younger daughter. My younger daughter’s middle name is Beatrice, and my husband calls her Trixie. My older daughter seems to be taking that pretty well.

Kevin shares that his cats, Huckleberry and Grayson aren’t big readers, no matter how much he tries to get them interested.

Please share one of your favorite children’s books.
I have soooo many favorites. One of my favorites for sure is “The Paper Bag Princess,” written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko. It’s a great girl-power story that turns the tables on fairy tale conventions. And the illustrations are terrific, too.

 

Thanks, Lucy and Kevin. Congratulations!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the zoo’s recent loss. Henry, Fiona’s dad, passed away a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, Henry for all the smiles!

Hippo Love

You know a book is good when you get your coworkers laughing about it in the lunchroom.

This lunch hour included people talk discussing gross things while others are eating. It made me think of what was on my nightstand. No, not Curtis Sittenfeld’s newest book Eligible, but tales of two hippos who are best friends.

Enter the George and Martha books, written and illustrated by James Marshall.

George tells “an icky story” while Martha is eating. She doesn’t like it.

“Please have some consideration,” she said.

He doesn’t stop so she tells him, “You’re asking for it.”

She retaliates with an even worse icky story and George gets sick.

“Don’t do it again,” she warns.

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Martha makes George pay for his icky story.

This is just one example why these books have my kids and me laughing out loud. When I mentioned this tale in the lunchroom, friends with older children remembered them with fondness.

“Have you seen the HBO show?,” asked my friend Michele, launching into a stellar imitation.

“It’s a good thing they are friends or George might be a henpecked husband,” she added.

Martha does let George have it when he tries to read her diary or scare her. Her one-line zingers aside, there is a lot of love and friendship between the two hippos. (And nice lessons about being a friend too.) George even starts a Martha fan club.

Finding a fellow admirer, I had to ask, “Do you know why George has one gold tooth?”

At this moment, another coworker walked in.

“What are you two talking about?”

“Hippos!” we laughed.

No one could remember why George had a gold tooth but we left lunch feeling warm and fuzzy. Such is the power of a great book.

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George tries to read Martha’s journal. She doesn’t like it.

I did a little “research” and read the story about George’s tooth – an unfortunate skateboard accident. However, Martha assures George he looks, “handsome and distinguished.”

Calvin, Max and I curled up a few nights ago with a  George and Martha: The Complete stories of Two Best Friends, with an introduction by Marshall’s friend Maurice Sendak.

We laughed and laughed.

“I might be a little afraid when Martha gets mad,” Calvin said.

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A little selfie action after reading George and Martha. We were wound up. Blame the funny hippos!

P.S. I highly recommend reading Sittenfeld’s new (adult) book  Eligible based on Pride and Prejudice. Local friends, it’s set in Cincinnati.