When I was seven years old, I owned Charlie Brown’s Super Book of Questions and Answers, a five-volume encyclopedia with entries on animals, plants, machines, space travel, human anatomy, and just about any other topic that might interest an elementary school reader. Interspersed with the facts and figures were short cartoons featuring the Peanuts gang. Many of these comic sidebars imparted information, too, debunking common myths and sharing fun, odd facts.
As someone who was obsessed with Charlie Brown and obsessed with trivia, the Super Books were irresistible. I read them cover to cover dozens of times, memorizing favorite passages and proudly informing adults of what I’d learned. (Yes, I was a little insufferable.) So when I heard about VIZ’s new Mameshiba books, in which cute characters pepper the reader with trivia, I instantly understood their appeal.
By Carrie Shepherd, Gemma Correll, and Fawn Lau
2011, VIZ Media, ISBN: 978-1421539720
96 pp., $6.95
Mamesiba On the Loose!
By James Turner, Jorge Monlongo, and Gemma Correll
2011, VIZ Media, ISBN: 978-1421538808
80 pp., $6.99
Mameshiba — literally, “bean dogs” — were first introduced to Japanese viewers through a series of 30-second television spots. What made these shorts unusual was that Mameshiba weren’t characters from an animated show, a children’s book, or a popular manga; they were created by Dentsu, an advertising firm. The characters proved so popular that they spawned a line of plush toys, apparel, accessories, and stickers. In an effort to capitalize on Mameshiba’s growing popularity here in the US, VIZ Media licensed the character rights, then created two original books for English-speaking audiences.
The first, Meet Mameshiba!, is aimed at younger readers, as its small, square trim suggests. The book features a mixture of colorful cartoons, photos, and trivia, each delivered by a different Mameshiba. (Sample: “If you cook an ostrich egg, it takes one and a half hours to boil.”) Though the text is too sophisticated for a young reader to tackle by herself, the cheeky tone, button-cute illustrations, and fun facts make this a good choice for bedtime reading, or for occupying a child on a long car trip. As an added bonus, Meet Mameshiba! also includes interactive pages with mazes, quizzes, and tips for drawing the characters.
The second, Mameshiba On the Loose!, is intended for a slightly older audience. (VIZ recommends it for ages 9-12.) Unlike Meet Mameshiba!, On the Loose is a graphic novel comprising two longer stories: “Journey to the Center of the Sink,” in which a group of Mameshiba battle mutant sewer chickens, talking carrots, and other hazards to rescue a friend who’s been washed down the drain, and “Beans in Space!”, in which Edamame, Lentil, Cranberry Bean, and Black-Eyed Pea pretend to visit Mars. Both stories remain faithful to the Mameshiba concept, with characters breaking the fourth wall to share trivia; think of the old Muppets sketch “Pigs in Space!”, and you have a good idea of what Mameshiba On the Loose! is all about.
Objectionable Content: Both books include trivia about flatulence and outhouses — not surprising, given the target audience, or the fact that Mameshiba are beans. Otherwise, the content is strictly PG.
The Bottom Line: Though both books are attractively packaged and illustrated, Mameshiba On the Loose! seems like a better bet for elementary school readers. The script is clearly written for tweens, whereas the jokes in Meet Mameshiba! sometimes seem more appropriate for adults: how many four-year-olds will appreciate a list of cheesy but innocuous pick-up lines? On the whole, however, both books should appeal to kids who love to learn odd new facts.
Review copies provided by VIZ Media.