‘Clyde the Hippo’ creators promote and publish their children’s book series during the pandemic

The "Clyde the Hippo" series of four picture books, published in 2020.
The “Clyde the Hippo” series of four picture books, published in 2020, features an anxious main character who tries new activities.
(Courtesy of Keith and Larissa Marantz)

When Keith and Larissa Marantz made plans to launch their children’s book series “Clyde the Hippo, they thought they’d be touring bookstores, libraries and schools.

Instead the husband-and-wife team delayed their book launch from April at the Barnes & Noble in the Irvine Spectrum to an Oct. 6 virtual Zoom launch due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Book launch plans, sales, everything — it’s a nightmare almost,” Keith said.

They connected with Soaring ‘20s, a group of children’s picture book authors and illustrators who support each other by reading and promoting their work.

“That really helped us this time during quarantine because we were able to review each other’s books on websites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads,” Larissa said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t know how to get that outreach.”

The couple made their first (and possibly only) in-person appearance this year at Tiddlywinks Toys and Games in Orange last Saturday.

They led two small outdoor sessions of live readings and drawing lessons. Keith and Larissa, decked out in purple outfits on theme with the series, came up with different scenarios for the character and drew them out with the kids in the audience.

"Clyde the Hippo" illustrator Larissa Marantz read from "Clyde the Hippo" book
“Clyde the Hippo” illustrator Larissa Marantz read the book to those present during an event at Tiddlywinks Toys and Games store in of Orange on Saturday.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The “Clyde the Hippo” picture books, for 3 to 5 year olds, follow Clyde, who has an overactive imagination and is anxious about trying new things. He tries a number of firsts — riding a bike, going to school, going down a playground slide and lying.

The creators wanted to hit on topics common for a young child.

“It’s nice to teach kids what you’ve learned through what you’re creating,” Keith said. “It’s really a lot of fun to see kids react to books and laugh. That’s really what I’m about at the end of the day, making people smile and laugh.”

Dylan Vargas, 4, drawing a book character during event at Tiddlywinks Toys and Games store
“Clyde the Hippo” illustrator Larissa Marantz shows children like Dylan Vargas, 4, how to draw the book character during an event at Tiddlywinks Toys and Games store.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The genesis of the book’s storyline started with the youngest of their three children. When their daughter was around 4 years old, she asked for a puppy, and Keith deflected by telling her they already had a hippo in the backyard.

“She looked at me funny and said, ‘I’ve never seen a hippo in the backyard before.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you go look for it?’ So that would buy me a little bit of time,” Keith said.

He thought the idea of a hippo hiding in the backyard would be a great picture book. Previously, they had self-published a book based on their oldest daughter’s drawings “Dream-o-licious,” and Clyde was a character that was supposed to fit in with the first book.

Larissa had worked as a Nickelodeon illustrator and character designer with credits in “The Rugrats,” “The Wild Thornberrys” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Once she transitioned from full-time animator to a stay-at-home mother, she also segued into illustrating picture books for Simon & Schuster.

"Clyde the Hippo" illustrator Larissa Marantz, with her husband and book writer Keith Marantz in the background
“Clyde the Hippo” illustrator Larissa Marantz, with her husband and author Keith Marantz in the background, read their book during an event at Tiddlywinks Toys and Games store.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

“As a mother with young children, I was always reading books to my kids. As an artist having pretty much given up my career of being in animation, I wanted to make sure that I was still using my skillset, and I felt like I could do that with picture books,” said Larissa. “With my husband being a creative, imaginative writer, we thought it would be the best thing to do to take both of our strengths and put them together to create books, especially because at the time our kids were really young.”

They are continuing their collaboration with a graphic novel set to be published by HarperCollins in 2022.

Larissa said the story takes place in the 24th century and is centered around a young genius who doesn’t know her potential. The main character and her family, including her annoying older brother, have to save the world from impending doom after aliens steal the sun’s energy.

The first Viet Book Fest highlights children’s literature and will be held through various virtual readings and Q&A events every Saturday of October culminating in a Halloween party on Oct. 31.

While working on the graphic novel, Larissa is also running online classes through her Orange-based O.C Art Studio. The studio started out in her garage 15 years ago, teaching her son’s friends about art, branched out as an afterschool enrichment program for elementary school kids and grew into hiring artists to teach multiple classes.

Although the studio is shut down for now, there are virtual classes available including sessions focused on high school students who want to build their portfolios and skill sets to apply to art schools.

She had trouble filling a basic drawing class during the summer and didn’t feel comfortable promoting it at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.

“Because I’m a Black woman and creator, there was an outreach for people to raise the voices of other Black artists and Black-owned businesses,” Larissa said. “That really propelled what I was doing and it gave me a larger audience, because people wanted to pay for the classes of Black artists or Black arts students.”

She went from not being able to fill a class to running three classes over the summer, in which almost 100 Black students were sponsored with an international reach in the United Kingdom, Zambia to Jamaica. Some of those who sponsored students are agents, animators and art directors who have also acted as mentors. Larissa plans to continue offering free classes to Black artists.

“We’re making lemonade out of lemons, I guess,” Larissa said. “That’s the angle that I’m going with now with those classes. Racial injustice is still prevalent in many of our minds right now, especially in the Black community.”

Clyde the Hippo” (series of four picture books)

By Keith Marantz; Illustrated by Larissa Marantz

Penguin Random House: 32 , pages, $8.99 each

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