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I like the Simpsons. I could give a list of reasons, but in short it is entertaining. I don't watch the Simpsons expecting to enlightened - or to model my own behaviour, it's just to unwind and have a wee laugh, which is the same reason I expect most viewers tune in to this show. My husband has always enjoyed the show as well - so it came as no surprise that our sons have started watch it as well, especially our 7 year old. He also loves comic books - which are not very easy to come by anymore. The Simpsons do have a long running series of comics and magazines and I had originally thought to get him a few magazines. I have in fact bought one magazine for him, but it works out a far better buy to choose these books instead.
The Big Beastly Book of Bart Simpson is a compilation of stories from the Simpsons comics. This book has 120 pages with no advertisements and cost me £2.70 delivered ( used). This sells new for £5.93, still less than two magazines. This offers significantly more reading material, and has the benefit of being a properly bound book which is easier to store on a bookshelf and hopefully will last longer. I have found that magazines tend to fall apart if a child carries them about and reads them over and over. This has already been read around a dozen times and I expect will be read many more times by my older son, as well as eventually by my youngest. Although my son reads this on his own, he has chosen it at story time as well, so I have read this to both children and both enjoyed it.
If I have counted right, this book has 14 short stories. Each is presented in comic book format, with typical Simpsons animation quality drawings. I can not recall seeing any of these stories on TV, and I have watched a lot of Simpsons episodes, so I believe they are original stories for The Simpsons Comics series. My son's favourite is called 'Bait and Cackle', in which hapless Homer insists on taking Bart Fishing. The motive for this is meant to be Father and son bonding, but Bart suspects an ulterior motive when he discovers the boat rental shop has a reduced price for "Father and Son Specials". Needless to say - everything goes wrong , but it is one laugh after another. When they finally make it home Bart wants to try another father and son trip, waving a flyer for father and son safaris.
My son really enjoys this book and has read it over and over again. We had a recent school board visit and one of the comments we received on our appraisal letter stated that my son clearly reads for pleasure as well as reading fluently. I think these two qualities are interwoven. A child who reads fluently enjoys reading more, and a child who reads for pleasure becomes a better reader. Comics help keep reading fun. Critics argue that they do not require reading - as you can guess at the story from the pictures, but this is only partly true. You can get a general idea from the pictures, but you certainly would not enjoy it as much as by reading it. I feel the pictures keep children interested, and give them clues to help decode difficult words. I believe comics in general are really underrated as means to improve literacy. This book may seem like just a bit of fun to my child, but it is building his reading skills all the same.
But by now many of you are likely wondering about my choice of title. I came across an article today accusing The Simpsons of racism. It seems their depiction of Apu is a stereotype, and they do not have an equal number of brown skinned cartoon characters in proportion to yellow. I honestly don't know where people get these ideas. Another source (Irish Central) feels Homer Simpson has his roots in anti Irish bigotry. I wonder if people have nothing better to do than spend their whole lives looking for something to complain about. The whole show is about caricatures! I don't think the Simpsons creator is in anyway racist. I think he just likes to poke fun at everyone. If you can't take a bit of stick and have laugh it might be best to avoid this show and all of it's publications. Or you can protest - but Matt Groening pokes fun at protesters too. But in all honesty, I think the show has gone out of their way to discourage prejudice.
Of course this isn't the first time the Simpsons have been held out as bad role models. Schools have banned Simpsons merchandise and I understand there was once a boycott as people felt Bart was a bad role model for children. Again - I say this is a cartoon - children do know the difference between a comic or cartoon and real life. Bart is of course a trouble maker in this book, just as in the show, but the book shows plenty of times when he is kind as well. Of course children would get in trouble if they copied everything Bart does in this book - but if they are old enough to read it, they are old enough to understand that Bart is not real. The characters in this comic behave just as the ones in the show. I believe Bart's character is not unlike may children - which is why they relate to him. If you want a book where children behave perfectly - try Little Lord Fauntleroy. But you may have trouble getting your average child today to read it. But if you just want a book that portrays children close enough to what they are really like, and which children will enjoy and have a good laugh at, this is a good bet.
This book is very light hearted, and does not tackle any of the serious issues which the television programme has often taken on. I can see nothing that could be taken as offensive by a sane and reasonable person - then again maybe I am neither and that is why I can not see what so clearly offends others :) There are no great moral lessons in this book. It isn't great literature and you won't learn science, history or anything else from this book. This just a set of short and funny stories. I don't believe there is really anything to learn from this book at all - except that reading is fun. That, in itself makes the book worthwhile to me.
My youngest is happy enough to listen to this at age 3, and I think this book is fine for younger children with parents reading, but I don't think I would buy it for a three year old. I would think age 5 would be ideal for enjoying the stories, but most children will probably struggle to read this before age 6. Although the television programme does take in all ages, I would not choose this as reading material myself, and I really feel it has an upper age limit of 12 - unless you are really a mad Simpsons or comics books fan.