Title: Tabemondo (たべもんどう）
Author/Illustrator: Noritake Suzuki (鈴木のりたけ）
Publisher: Bronze (June 2015)
A good friend who moved from Japan this June brought with her this delightful gift which I've been dying to include in my collection. This was published in June, 2015 and looking up the details online I find another book, Ketchup Man which also looks intriguingly food based. When I raised my kids in Japan I loved to watch shows like this one on NHK, which I've only just realized now is translated from the original French series Les Animaux des Quatre Saisons ("The Four Seasons Animals". The world is so full of clever ideas for children, don't you think?
Tabemondo combines pictures of food-based characters with wacky or tricky pages of text that pose riddles, present readers with tongue twisters or make the reader think in some way. In the page pictured here for instance, an elderly female bunch of shimeji mushrooms has decided she needs an image change, so the page "Shimeji Image Change" is born. (Trust me, this play on words sounds great in Japanese). The reader is given an extra puzzle, in this case, "What time is it?" and will have to look at the messy room filled with half concealed clocks to work it out.
In addition to this, on every page there is a cucumber character wearing a helmet (he's a "kyuukyuusha kyuuri" or "paramedic cucumber). In this one he's hiding behind a pair of jeans. When I showed this book they were obsessed with finding the "pickle" on every page which show you how young food culture shapes a child's vocabulary.
Other pages are more difficult to understand. In this mashup of a fried shrimp, cob of corn and a hamburger patty the reader is asked to identify the true nature of each character. Is the type of food identified by the bottom part, the middle (where the "heart" might be?) or in the "face"?
What do you think?
In the back of the book, answers to tricky pages like this reveal that (drum roll please) the characters are identified by their faces. You can see in the picture that the fried shrimp at the right looks worried that his body and his bottom have gone elsewhere. On the other hand the corn in the middle and the hamburger on the left are somehow perfectly happy with their bodies. The only reason I can think for this is that the shrimp is the only one of the three to have a brain, which is why he looks confused. I know I'm confused...
These "answers" at the back of the book sometimes directly disagreed with what I was thinking. While looking a group photo of food in front of Mt Fuji, the reader is asked to identify which one of the food characters is not like the others. The odd one out. OK, this should be easy enough, and I like these things that often have more than one answer.
The bread is the only one that is baked. The seaweed is the only flat food and the only food to come from the sea. The tofu is the only one with a little hat of spring onions and soy sauce. The ham is the only meat. The chocolate is the only sweet food. The mochi (pounded rice cake) is the only food that is so hard you can't bite it when it's raw. Yet none of these reasons are "correct", matching the answer at the back of the book. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. :)