Taro and the Magic Pencil by Sango Morimoto and Panda Man to the Rescue! by Sho Makura are two of the newest children books published with Viz Media LLC. Both books were originally published in Japan but have been translated for English speaking children. Both books target children, ages six and up.
Having spent 15 years,teaching first graders to read (a few of them spent teaching English to middle school kids), I jumped at the chance to review these books, wondering how they compare to all the early childhood books I have used in the classroom or at home with my own kids when they were small.
Both books are filled with illustrations that share imaginative adventure through pictures, comic strip type speech bubbles and traditional text. From a teacher’s perspective, I think this is a great way to make reading fun for a child that is a reluctant reader because the illustrations help share the adventure and children who struggle to read like reading “comic book style” reading material.
Both books share a fast paced adventure, children this age enjoy. In Taro and The Magic Pencil there are bonus games and comics inside. Six-year-old kids love this type of interactive fun.
Now for the break down.
Taro and the Magic Pencil includes a cast of comic characters who need their world saved by Taro, a boy who loves to draw. Taro has to use a magic pencil given to him by one of the characters, the Wise Magician, and this story event allows Taro to travel to Doodledom and save the townies from King Crossout, an evil genius who is turning Doodledom into a scary place. There are battles involving attack machines and imaginative surprises and magical transformations. Children who love action and adventure, especially boys, will enjoy the story; but it leaves little opportunity for vocabulary development or critical thinking (an important skill for building comprehension and understanding in young or emergent readers).
The word “preposterous” announced by the evil king, may be a word a child this age has never heard before, but, other than that, the opportunity for vocabulary development is just not there. As a teacher, I would never use this book other than in free time where it would be great for the child who struggles to read or hates to open a book. As a mom, I would buy the book because my son at that age loved to read comic style books, and reading is meant to be enjoyed. There’s nothing wrong with reading a book just for fun and not for learning. In fact, children this age should have a selection of books in their home library to create the joy for reading. Taro and the Magic Pencil is great for getting kids to imagine and enjoy a fun fast paced ride in the world of make believe.
Panda Man to the Rescue! is mixed with story and fun puzzles and mazes to solve in order to help the main character, Panda Man, find the thieves who have stolen all the milk in New Milk City.There are bonus comics and games, plus a colorful bookmarker that a child can cut out and use. The superhero and his sidekicks get the young reader involved by asking the child to create (through drawing) a story on their own. I loved this, as it promoted a deeper level of thinking skills: critical thinking, sequencing skills and promoting an understanding of story plot. Children this age are learning that stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Boys will giggle at the references to flatulence, but conservative moms may not appreciate the word “fart” used frequently in the book. My take as a teacher? Whether the mom wants the child to use the word or not, the word is used on the school bus and on the playground and you can’t shelter the child from hearing the word. It doesn’t take away from the story and the opportunity to enjoy a fun reading experience.
Like Taro and the Magic Pencil, there is little opportunity for vocabulary development, but both promote the idea that reading is to be enjoyed and that reading is fun. I recommend both books to kids who are into action and adventure, but not for kids who are reading at a higher level because they may be bored by the lack of character development or story details.