Fiona the Hippo, by New York Times bestselling artist Richard Cowdrey, tells Fiona’s remarkable tale in a way kids can understand, with whimsical images adorning each page.
Cowdrey, an Ohio resident, came up with the idea after seeing all of the buzz around the cute creature, who was born premature and defied odds to survive and thrive.
“I felt a lot of pride and interest in her story,” Cowdrey tells PEOPLE. “I’m from Cincinnati, I grew up going to the zoo with my dad. It just hit me that with her backstory and personality, she’s the perfect character for a children’s book series.”
To get started, Cowdrey got to do what every Fiona fan dreams of — have a private one-on-one meeting with her. “I even pet her on the head,” he shares. “It was really cool.”
Their get-together helped him create his own Fiona, illustrating her “in a way that makes her fun and cute,” Cowdrey says. “It’s funny when you go to illustrate, especially with animals, because you see them, then sit down to draw and they’re very different looking creatures.”
Cowdrey sticks close to Fiona’s own life story in the book, softening her somewhat scary arrival and early days for his young audience. “You see a scene with a nurse holding her, other nurses standing around with their iPhones taking photos of her,” he explains. “But the excitement of the other zoo animals becomes the focus. You see her finding out who her parents are, since she was separated from them at birth. There are a lot of sweet moments. We don’t want to shock kids.”
The many adventures she’s had since — being deputized by the Cincinnati Police Department, working with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, partnering with the Reds — could lend themselves to future books, something her fans would likely be thrilled about.
“It’s cool how her popularity crosses the board in terms of diversity: age, race, American or international,” Cowdrey says. “She has been relatable to everybody.”
He even shared that ahead of her book release party for kids on Tuesday at the zoo, he’ll be presenting the tome to residents at a retirement community nearby. “Ultimately that’s what this is about,” he shares. “She appeals to everyone and I love that.”
Fiona the Hippo is available now on Amazon.com.