July 05, 2012
(++++) ON BEYOND MANGA
Basher 123. By Simon Basher. Kingfisher. $16.99.
Go! Go! BoBo: Opposites; Time. By Simon Basher. Kingfisher. $6.99 each.
Manga was never like this. Or, well, it was, but only in other books by Simon Basher, who adopts manga drawing conventions and adapts them for a very clever and eminently readable series of instructional books for the very youngest learners and those who are slightly older. Basher 123 is in the “slightly older” category, for ages 3-6, and is quite different from the many other counting books out there. Basher’s art is one reason; his approach to numbers is another. From the first page, this book is clearly out of the ordinary: the number one is represented by “one smiling snake” that “cuddles his teddy bear.” Now there’s an image you won’t find in other counting books! Nor will you find most of the others that Basher depicts here: the “three messy pigs” baking tiny cupcakes, the “four freaky frogs” with holes in their socks, the “seven tiny rabbits” that “jump around in cowboy hats,” the “nine daring ladybugs” that “show off on their skateboards,” and so on up to the number 20. That’s right, 20 – early counting books tend to stop at 10, but not Basher’s. When “twelve twinkling stars wave a bright hello to Earth,” the figure of Earth – a globe atop a foreshortened manga body known as a chibi – shows the manga influence on Basher particularly well. Other illustrations highlight Basher’s offbeat humor to particularly good effect, such as “seventeen hungry flies take a lollipop home for dinner,” a delightfully silly picture made even more so by the fact that the lead fly is carrying a bright red arrow pointing the way home. Whether drawing 19 naughty sheep, 20 sleepy spiders or 13 speedy snails (in red racecars), Basher makes counting fun and highly amusing on right-hand pages while keeping left-hand ones straightforward, using them to show the numeral, the spelled-out word for the number (such as “twelve” or “eighteen”), and where the number fits in the sequence of 1 to 20 (each page shows the full sequence; the specific number is underlined). The final four pages, which recap all the numbers and show smaller versions of the drawings, are a great way to review counting lessons and are highly enjoyable in their own way.
BoBo’s way is highly enjoyable, too. BoBo is Basher’s bouncy baby for kids up to age four, swooping and swirling his way through brightly colored illustrations of Opposites (loud/quiet, fast/slow, dirty/clean, and so forth) and Time (play time, lunch time, bath time, etc.). The BoBo board books are extremely sturdy, their illustrations done in colors so brilliant and saturated that adults may feel their eyes popping if they stare at the pages too long – which makes the books perfect for very young children whose vision is still in the developmental stage (and who, let’s face it, like hyper-bright colors). Each reader of these books will have his or her favorite pages – in Opposites, perhaps BoBo playing the drum set (with his name emblazoned on it) or jumping in a muddy puddle; in Time, perhaps the messiness of breakfast time (with nine overflowing bowls of cereal and a container of spilling milk) or the sheer colorfulness of park time (with the sun, a pogo stick, brightly colored ice-on-a-stick, and balls bouncing everywhere). The one peculiarity of the BoBo books remains the conception of BoBo himself: he always wears a bandage on his head, implying an injury, and his eyes are shaped like the letter X, which in cartoon language (manga included) usually means a character is unconscious or hurt, if not dead. BoBo is clearly very much alive and not in any pain – his activities are nothing if not super-enthusiastic – but his appearance is at odds with what he does, and may be confusing for children (including very young ones) who have seen any manga or other cartoon adventures. BoBo’s mouth does indicate his moods – an open “o,” a smile, a squiggle representing confusion, and so forth – but his eyes and bandage are out of touch with the rest of his appearance. Parents should be prepared with some sort of explanation if children (even really young ones) ask whether BoBo “is feeling all right,” or at least not be surprised by the question. Probably the best answer is something along the lines of, “Sure he is – look at all the fun he is having.” But Basher’s decision to draw BoBo in a way that even invites the question is a small destabilizing element in what is otherwise a first-rate introduction to a wide variety of concepts.