Sing Books with Emily, the Blog

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, an Illustrated Song

Posted on: December 7, 2009

This novelty song is a favorite.  I sing it all year long.

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
Words and Music by John Rox
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2005
ISBN 978-0-06-052942-0



The song (words and music) was written by John Rox in 1950, about a little girl who shuns dolls and tinkertoys with a wish to creep down the stairs on Christmas morning to see a hippopotamus standing there under the tree.  The song became a genuine hit a few years later when a little girl, Gayla Peevey, used the song to raise money for the Oklahoma City Zoo so that it could acquire its first hippo.  The zoo, thanks to the song, got a hippo for Christmas and named it Matilda.

Click here for a link to the Oklahoma City Zoo:

Most likely, you are familiar with Gayla Peevey’s version of the song, but I also enjoy the version by the Three Stooges, which you can find on i-Tunes or

The version recorded by John Rox does not match the text of the book, unfortunately.  But I found a karaoke track, that fits the music and text of the book perfectly and is played in a singable key, to boot!
Check out,

Mr. Watley’s book has some terrific pictures.  My favorites pages are those with close-ups of the hippo’s face and the girls face, each with a little picture of the other gleaming in the eyes.  Funny and sweet.

The books comes complete with sheet music in the final pages.  The books is nicely done and would make a terrific gift, especially if it is packaged with a CD of vocal and sing along tracks.

I especially like that the song is about a little girl who knows that she wants.  It’s not greed, but a glint of girl power and I think that is great.  Especially since it was Gayla Peevey’s girl power that helped the Oklahoma City Zoo get hippo for Christmas in 1953!


Biographical info on illustrator Bruce Watley, here:


Words and Music by John Rox

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. A hippopotamus is all I want.
Don’t want a doll, no dinky Tinker toy.
I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy.
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.
I don’t think Santa Claus will mind, do you?
He won’t have to use our dirty chimney flue,
Just bring him through the front door, that’s the easy thing to do.
I can see me now on Christmas morning creeping down the stairs.
Oh what a joy and what surprise when I open up my eyes
To see my hippo hero standing there.
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.
Only a hippopotamus will do.
No crocodile or rhinoceroses.
I only like hippopotamuses
And hippopotamuses like me too.

I want a hippopotamus for Christmas. A hippopotamus is all I want.
Mom says a hippo would eat me up but then
Teacher says a hippo is a vegetarian.
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.  The kind I saw last summer in the zoo.
We got a car with room for two in our two car garage.
I’d feed him there and wash him there and give him his massage.
I can see me now on Christmas morning creeping down the stairs.
Oh what joy and what surprise when I open up my eyes
To see my hippo hero standing there.
I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.
Only a hippopotamus will do.
No kangaroos or duckbill platypuses.
I only like hippopotamuses and hippopotamuses like me too!


A Wikipedia article about “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” here:

You might also enjoy the Three Stooges’ recording:

Gretchen Wilson recorded “Hippo” in 2009:

A post from the blog “Children’s Records and More” which includes information and a link to download an MP3 file of the original recording:


Sing-along right now with this Singable Picture Book Video (which includes Words, Music and Pictures!) of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,”


An Additional Thought…

“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is a terrific song, so fun to sing! I think it would be GREAT fun to sing it all year long.  Maybe skip it for the month of January when everyone is still backing in the glow of Christmas, but after Valentine’s day, you can sing it saying that you are planning ahead for the next Christmas.  It’s always a good idea to plan ahead…ESPECIALLY for Christmas!


“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is one of the songs we selected to be part of “Sing Books with Emily, the Cabaret.”

Completing my Song Craft Worksheet is part of my process for working on songs:

 Emily’s Song Craft Worksheet

Because the first section of the Song Craft Worksheet involves background research on the song, I’ll share the answers with you so you can know about the song, too.  The more about the song you know (both concrete facts and less tangible artistic choices), the more “authority,” and heart and soul you can put into the singing and sharing of the song with others.  If you are interested in improving your artistic abilities for singing songs in any capacity, just simply filling out the Song Craft Worksheet is a great place to start!  After the background research, the rest of the Song Craft Worksheet gets VERY personal…don’t worry!  I won’t bore you with that. :-)

1 Q: Who wrote the words?
1 A: John Rox

2Q: Who wrote the music?
2A: John Rox

3Q: When was the song written?
3A: 1950, 1953

4Q: At what point in the lyricists’ and composer’s career was the song written?
4Q: I’m still looking for this info…

5Q: What is the song from?
5A: So far as I can tell, his song is a stand alone.

6Q: If from a show, what character sang it?
6A: NA

7Q: If from a show, from what situation does teh song arise?  Why does the character sing the song?  What function dos teh song/character play in the story?
7A: NA

8Q:  What other contextual elements of the song are significant?
8A: I love the idea that this song became a hit as recorded to raise money for the Oklahoma City Zoo to buy a hippopotamus.  I also love that this song is about a girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afriad to say it.

9Q: Was the song written for a particular singer?  Why?
9A: I’m still looking for this info…

10Q: If not from a show, why did the songwriter write the song?
10A: I’m still looking for this info…

11Q: What do you feel the lyricist is trying to say?

12Q: Does the song tell a story or just express feelings or ideas?
12A: This girl knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it!  Also, “If you don’t ask, you don’ t get!”

13Q: Who else has recorded this song:
13A: Gayla Peevey, Three Stooges, Joanie Bartles, Gretchen Wilson (and many others…)

The rest of the questions require personal answers and I will spare you those!

Researching “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” for my upcoming show and CD, “Oh, What a Beautiful Day: Sing Books with Emily, the Cabaret,” I wondered if the story was true about Gayla Peevey recording the song to raise money for Mathilda the Hippo at the Oklahoma City Zoo and if Mathilda or her descendents were still there.

I wrote the zoo to ask about the story and if Mathilda’s descendants still resided at the zoo and Candice Rennels, Manager of Marketing & Public Relations at the Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden kindly responded to my questions:

Dear Emily,
Thank you for your email and interest in one of the Oklahoma City Zoo’s
animal legacies, Mathilda the hippo! Mathilda lived a very long and happy
life here at the Zoo until her death in 1998. She was a Nile hippopotamus
which the Zoo no longer has in its collection. Currently we have pygmy
hippopotamus, smaller cousins to the Nile hippo.

About Mathilda and the song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”…When
Gayla Peevy, a 10-year-old Oklahoma singer, recorded the hit song “I Want a
Hippopotamus for Christmas” in 1953, the Oklahoma City Zoo began a campaign
to purchase a real hippo. Children sent in over $3,500 in pocket change,
just in time for Mathilda the Hippo to be delivered Christmas Eve. Gayla
welcomed the new arrival to her home.

Mathilda’s story is shared in two books written about the Zoo’s history. The
first, “Oklahoma City Zoo, Now & Then” is available in our Gift Shop. The
second was written by Amy Stephens, Senior Education Naturalist here at the
Zoo, and is  entitled “Oklahoma City Zoo 1902-1959” and is available on at
We also sell the attached T-shirts in our gift shops if you are interested
in purchasing one just let me know.

I hope this information is helpful. If you would like to learn more about
Mathilda or Amy’s book feel free to email her at Or,
feel free to contact me if there’s anything else I can help you with.

Kind regards,

Candice Rennels

Turns out, Gayla Peevey, who was 10, recorded the song and then just after that, Gayla and the song became associated with the Oklahoma City Zoo’s efforts to acquire a hippo.

The whole story, starting on page 115,  is in (along with pictures of Mathilda as a baby and her “wedding” invitation a few years later),

Oklahoma City Zoo 1902-1959
By Amy Dee Stephens

As for Gayla Peevey, it seems she moved to California (where she still lives) married and had children, recorded more songs under the name “Jamie Horton,” was a teacher and worked in advertising.  Here is a brief wiki article about her life:

A great post (December 2010) from the KOSU Radio, Okalhoma City Public Radio Station website, and Gayla Peevey (now 67/68 year old Gayla Henderson) is briefly interviewed:


I got a hippopotamus for Christmas!

…and not just one but THREE!

One might think at first that he song, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is just a fantasy, but thanks to two dear friends, I can honestly say the dream can come true.

Friends gave me three wonderful hippos for Christmas:

When I was a kid, “Charlie” perfume had lots of what are now funny, kitchy commercials on TV.  Turns out one year, they sold a paste version of the fragrance in a metal hippo box.  A friend of mine found one of these and made a wonderful gift of it to me.  What joy!

This little guy will now come along with me to “Sing Books” gatherings.  I knitted a long/thin scarf/necklace and now he can come along for the ride!

This hippo is a glass ornament and will enjoy a special place on our Christmas tree, reminding me what fun it is to make wishes that come true!

Plus, just a little memory to share…
My family moved out of the first house my parents bought when I was about 5 years old.  One of my first memories is from that house and of the ballerina hippo wall decals that my mom put on my closet doors.

Of course I also love the “George and Martha” books written and illustrated by James Marshall (who is also the illustrator of a number of wonderful Singable Picture Books).

This is all to say that it’s the little things like this (stories, memories, gifts, events, associations, images, etc) that make a song come alive, that make it matter, that give it relevance…that give a person a REASON to sing.

…and…if you start looking for hippos, they’re everywhere.

…and…if you say what you want, you just might get it!


December 2016
I WANT A HIPPOPOTAMUS FOR CHRISTMAS with classes of Ms. Anctil and Mr. Mitchell yesterday. That was sure fun! Thanks to Ms. Anctil for for the video. HAPPY HOLIDAYS ALL!

Winter Songs Mary Riley Styles Library, 1/11/2014
Photo by Liz Macklin

Related Posts


A Collection of Singable Picture Books that celebrate CHRISTMAS!


That’s Hilarious! A List of Singable Picture Books that’ll Crack You Up!


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