Here Comes Little Bare Boy! by Taro Gomi
Original title (Japanese): Sora Hadakanbo, 1987
It has not been published in English. Why not?
Our version (Spanish): Faktoria K de Libros, 2007 (Translation: Maki Fukuhara)
¡A bañarse!, Taro Gomi by We read it like this
Click above to listen to the way we read Here Comes Little Bare Boy! (in Spanish)
[This book has not been published in English. The review refers to the Spanish version of the book (shown in the image above). Any quotes are therefore my own translations from that version, provided for the purposes of this review only.]
Here Comes Little Bare Boy! is funny, playful, it suggests the possibility of an "acceptable" kind of naughtiness, plays with perceptual interpretation, sets a definite mood and creates a well-drawn character and last but not least, manages to do tenderness without going corny. Each of these things alone would already be an achievement, but when you see them all together, you feel like bringing on the fireworks!
Here Comes Little Bare Boy! is a paradigm of that elusive simplicity that is so often sought and so rarely achieved in children's literature. We love it!
Here Comes Little Bare Boy! is the story of the bath of a lion, I mean, a bear, I mean, a boy called Taro, from when his mother asks him to take off his clothes until the gets out of the bath, clean and dripping, ready to get dried (although he doesn't actually dry until the endpapers). A bit like a Russian doll, the boy presents himself before us as a lion, as a bear with human clothes, as a bear with no clothes and at last as a boy, naked and ready for his bath. He interacts with his mother, off page, and with a seemingly reluctant play pal cat.
The colourful illustrations against a white background of Here Comes Little Bare Boy! manage to express emotions and intentions almost exclusively through the position of the eyes, with the rest of the face remaining absolutely identical. It reminds me of the simplicity of Dick Bruna. Although here there are wrinkles and irregularities in the lines, they are similar in the sense that they manage to reduce the lines to those strictly necessary to convey expression.
We love his feline companion, looking at times harrassed, at others curious, sometimes entertained, sometimes surprised and sometimes joining in the game and imitating the boy's actions. He serves both as a counterpoint and as a reflection of the boy.
Here is the lion playing with his cat friend, when his mother calls him: "Lion!, bath time! Get undressed, please!":
And so he starts: "Whoosh! Off with it.
And continues: "Click, click, click, go the buttons and off slips my shirt".
To his mother: "See, Mum? I'm all bare. I'm going to get into the bath".
But when his mother points out he's a bear, and should get undressed, he continues. "Ok, wriggle, wriggle, there!"
And at last in the bath, having a good wash and a whale of a time.
We also love the back cover:
|Costumes holding hands|
The endpapers are fantastic, with white lines on a dark background. The front endpapers show the boy-bear-lion playing with his cat (who looks rather fed up), chasing it and giving it frights. The back endpapers show the boy with his towel on in ghost fashion, also playing with the cat, who also seems slightly fed up here, but it is actually the cat who tugs the towel for the boy to chase him.
Reading it out loud
Here Comes Little Bare Boy! is a wonderful book to read out loud, either individually or in groups.
It is full of interesting sounds: whoosh!, zip!, splosh! splash!; it has repetitions that encourage participation: What? Are you asking a lion to take off its clothes? / Are you asking a bear to take of its clothes?; and a broad range of physical movements and gestures great to imitate. You can read it sitting down, but it also works really well standing, wriggling, shaking and moving with Taro.
It is a book to look at while it is being read, where the astonishment at every perceptual shift (lion to bear, bear to boy) brings on lots of aaahs! and ooohs!, the odd laugh and lots of smiles.
My son loves the illustration where Taro is taking his socks off. And, generally, he loves the cat and likes seeing what it's doing in each image or why it's doing what it's doing.
The recording is incomplete and not particulary meaningful without the illustrations. I recommend taking it out of a library or buying a copy. I haven't read it to a single child who has not loved it. Although the publisher's recommended age is five and over, it works very well as a read aloud from baby age.
What we like about Here Comes Little Bare Boy!
My son was seduced by the cover. A lion! Grrrreat! A few pages into it, surprise took over, and he started to laugh. But it wasn't full blown, loud laughter. It was more like a smile of wonder at the perceptual, almost gestaltic, adjustment. And it doesn't happen only once, but several times, each as effective as the previous one.
He also loves the bath, with the water almost overflowing, splashing like there's no tomorrow, with nobody coming and telling Taro not to splash, not to wet the bathroom floor, not to... He loves the scene where he gets out of the bath all full of foam and goes on with the game "Look, Mum: I'm a foam lion, I'm a white bear". Basically, he loves the game, the mischief accepted by a mother who at no time tells him off and even takes part in the game ("Oh dear! You're a bear!").
Like I said at the start, I like the fact that it suggests the posibility of an "acceptable" kind of mischief; I like the mother taking part in the game through her off page voice and her respecting the amount of time children sometimes need to actually do what one asks them to do, without losing her temper or reminding him every two minutes. I like the relationship established between Taro and a mother we never see but whose attitude is necessary for the metamorphosis and process narrated in the book to take place.
I like the fact that playfulness is always, at all times, above any attempt to teach anything or to show children how to do things.
That is why to describe Here Comes Little Bare Boy! as a book to teach children to undress and bathe on their own may be an accurate reference to one of its "collateral advantages", but it reduces the book to something it specifically is not and instrumentalizes literature in such a way that it guarantees that children will end up bored to death with it. Why do we insist on teaching kids lessons all the time? Why don't we give them the chance to read for the sake of enjoyment? If along the way, they see something positive they fancy imitating, so be it. But let's not choose books for the lessons they contain. Do we read novels for them to give us practical lessons for our lives or rather to enjoy a good book? Precisely.
This book is part of a kind of learning that is far more complex and difficult to teach than undressing or bathing alone. It's part of learning how to enjoy literature.
(c) of all the images, Taro Gomi, 1987
(c) of the text, Ellen Duthie, 2012. By all means copy it and reproduce it if you want, but please be nice and cite your source (author and site).