Many children seem to go through a phase where they are delighted by gross or disgusting things like boogers and farts. I guess you could some of us adults still haven’t grown out of it. (:
There are books for young readers that take advantage of this by including these types of gross topics to catch the interest of children. I think there are probably some English-language books that do this, but I’ve noticed this trend especially in Japanese-language children’s books.
A great example of this trend is the series “Bum Detective” (おしりたんてい, Oshiri Tantei) written by the writer/illustrator team known as “Troll” (トロル). I own the 5th book in this series, currently #1 on Amazon Japan’s bestseller list for children’s books, but I have leafed through some of the other books and they seem to have a similar style, so I will be writing this review for the most part on the series as a whole.
Storywise, these books are pretty traditional in that they involve a detective solving a series of mysteries. One thing I like is how this series actively questions and engages the reader at various points in the narrative. They range from simple puzzles like mazes and guessing combination of colors to more advanced things like looking for odd things said by a certain character. Another thing I like about this book is how the puzzles are only there to ornament the story. They are infrequent enough and integrated skillfully so that it doesn’t feel like you are going through a workbook. If you do want a little more challenge there are actually some puzzles hidden throughout the book (at least the 5th volume), such as finding certain hidden objects (guess what shape…)
However, there is one very big difference from your average whodunit story: the main character’s face is the body part that touches down when we sit on a chair. That’s right, he is a butt!
Although the art style of Oshiri Tantei is colorful and sufficiently detailed, having to stare at page after page of a giant rump is, frankly, borderline unbearable. For that reason, I was intitially opposed to buying this book. But after my son expressed a strong interest in it, I couldn’t help but pick it up at Kinokuniya. Even now, when I read it I try to not look directly into the face of it.
For the most part, the fact the main character’s head is made from two soft cheeks doesn’t seem to have that much of a bearing on the story, and this is a good thing. But there is one major exception: when the Bum Detective uses his “special ability” at key points in the narrative while saying the (in)famous line, in true Japanese-style politeness:
失礼こかせていただきます (Shitsurei kokasete itadakimasu)
I’m going to intentionally not translate this and leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out (:
For those studying Japanese or teaching it to your children, the vocabulary of these books is somewhat more advanced than your average picture book, with words like きてき (汽笛、steam whistle) that I wasn’t too familiar with. A large majority of the book is in hirgana-only instead of kanji with furigana reading hints that I usually expect for this level of vocabulary. I actually prefer the latter (kanji+furigana) since it is easier to guess the meaning of words, but I think having less kanji makes the books feel easier for parents and children, despite the fact there is less information presented.
One of the only things I don’t like about this book is how parts of the dialogue are written in a tiny hand-written script that is difficult to read. This is pretty common in manga, though I haven’t seen it used too often in children’s books of this sort. Fortunately, you can still follow what is going on even if you skip these.
On a note about translation, I was originally going to render the title as “Butt Detective”, but then I found it referenced on multiple sites as “Bum Detective”. Here is one such site that gives some more details about these books and their authors. While “bum” sounds like British English to me, I guess it has a more refined feeling than the everyday word “butt”, that fits more with the Sherlock Holmes-style politeness of the main character of this series. Interestingly, there seem to be French and Korean translations published, but no English translation yet.
This book is great for roudoku practice (reading out loud), especially if you try to act out the detective’s lines. However because of the vocabulary level, I think this book is probably best for elementary school children. From what I have seen online, it is recommended for the earlier grades of elementary school (小学生低学年向け).
You can see the web page for the series here. Another way to enjoy the world of “Bum Detective” is through its free mobile apps, available on iOS and Android platforms. I haven’t tried them yet myself, but the ratings seem pretty good. I just hope there is a censor feature to hide the main character’s face (: