April 21, 2011

(++++) BASHER FOR BABIES AND BEYOND

Go! Go! BoBo: Shapes; Colors. By Simon Basher. Kingfisher. $6.99 each.

ABC Kids. By Simon Basher. Kingfisher. $17.99.

Human Body: A Book with Guts! By Dan Green. Illustrations by Simon Basher. Kingfisher. $8.99.

     Simon Basher, manga-inspired illustrator and animator, has carved out a particularly useful niche for himself by creating characters to represent elements of scientific study, such as physics, chemistry and the periodic table. This humanizes (or at least cartoon-izes) the study of these subjects, and gives them a visual punch that ought to appeal to the highly visual orientation of kids in grades 5-7 (ages 10 and up). Breezy, simplified but not too simplified explanations of the scientific topics make Basher’s books excellent early reference volumes for middle schoolers. And now Basher is reaching out to other ages – starting with the very youngest, up to age four. The Go! Go! BoBo board books are bright delights, filled with pictures of a bouncy baby zipping through the air amid a whole series of shapes or colors. Basher manages to make the simple books extra-attractive in several ways. In Shapes, for example, he shows a basic square and then has BoBo bounce through wrapped square packages in front of which square dice are visible. A circle leads to a bounce through buttons and oranges; a heart, to heart-shaped balloons and strawberries; and so on. In Colors, extra gloss is added to the illustrations, which really “pop,” whether they are of rubber ducks and bananas (for “yellow”) or of piglets and cupcakes with icing (for “pink”). The one slight miscalculation here is the design of BoBo himself: his eyes are shaped like the letter X, which in cartoon language usually means a character is unconscious or injured – and the bandage that BoBo always has on his head reinforces that impression. If Basher intended the design to show that BoBo is somehow dreaming of all the shapes and colors, that intention does not come through – parents should be prepared with some sort of explanation if children (even really young ones) ask whether BoBo “is feeling all right.” And yes, they will ask.

     Slightly older children, ages 3-6, get a bevy of Basher delights in ABC Kids, which is an unusually creative alphabet book. Here, Basher characters eat, bounce, dress up, dance, paint and more, all in the service of sentences in which every word begins with the same letter – and some words are significantly more advanced than the ones alphabet books typically contain. No “A is for apple” here; instead, “Arthur’s angry ant ate apples,” and yes, the ant really does look angry. “Claude’s crafty cuckoo collects coins.” “Edna’s elegant elephant enjoys Easter eggs.” “Franklin frightens fiendish fish.” “Jasper juggles juicy jellyfish.” “Prudence paints pumpkins pink!” And so forth, all the way to “Zack zaps zeppelins!” The pictures are all quite cute, and a few are outstanding, from that dressed-up elephant to the one of Tim’s tortoises (which tickle tadpoles). A delightful undercurrent of absurdity keeps the book both surprising and amusing: “Ursula’s uncle unicycles underwater,” for example. ABC Kids is both a fine way to learn (or relearn) the alphabet and a great chance to expand vocabulary while thoroughly enjoying some wonderful drawings.

     Nor is Basher neglecting science books for older kids. Human Body is the newest in what could be called Basher’s “traditional mode,” but there is nothing traditional about the book itself as a study of what makes human beings tick. For one thing, there is a bound-in poster at the back that provides an exceptionally clever look at the circulatory system, from the smiling and boot-wearing brain in the middle to the bellows-wielding lungs and broom-equipped spleen. The personification of body parts is right in line with Basher’s usual approach, and the implements they are given are cleverly reflective of their real functions, making the poster both informative and fun to look at. The book itself is divided into chapters that are identified by color-coded tabs and given such titles as “Food Crew and Trash Gang” (enzymes, saliva, teeth, etc.), “Super Toughs” (skin, hair, sweat gland), and “Body Building Blocks” (stem cell, protein, mitochondrion – the vocabulary and explanations are accurate, no matter how unconventional the portrayal of body elements may be). Dan Green’s text has the body bits narrating their own stories, which further humanizes them. For example, Intestines says, “I suck all the juicy goodness from the mushy chyme that Stomach passes on,” and Spinal Cord proclaims, “I’m a zippy-zappy dude who keeps you on your toes. I’m a slinky, slippery type who runs up the middle of your S-shaped spine.” It is quite easy to imagine very young children becoming entranced by the Basher approach to learning through board books, moving along to reading basics with ABC Kids, and continuing to lap up knowledge with the science books later in their school years. And that, of course, is surely the point of Basher’s “line extensions” – get ’em while they’re young and keep ’em interested as they get older.

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