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Batman's Guide to Crime and Detection is part of a four book series combing popular comic book characters with Doring Kindesley's DK Readers series. The series does contain some fiction titles, but the majority are non fiction, combining DK's well know photographic style of illustration with age appropriate text in a reasonably easy to read format. According to DK's website, this is "a multi-level reading programme guaranteed to capture children's interest while developing their reading skills and general knowledge". After having read a number of books in this series, I believe that description is fair enough.
Although this book features Batman, a fictional character, I would classify this as non-fiction book. In fact this looks and reads very much like a typical Eyewitness book, but it has small side notes comparing Batman's techniques with real life crime fighting. It is illustrated primarily with photographs, but uses drawings for Comic book characters and gadgets. If you are looking for a book primarily about Batman, you will be disappointed in this one. Batman is very much secondary to the main idea of this book, which is police work. But while Batman takes a back seat to the non fiction text, I do think the inclusion of comic book characters is a wonderful way to get children interested in a wide variety of topics. We own a few other books in this series: Flash's Book Of Speed, Green Lantern's Book of Inventions, The Hulk's Book of Strength and Aquaman's Guide to the Oceans. Although my sons have never had a particular interest in police work, we enjoyed the other titles so much we decided to give this one a go. I'm glad we did. the book was very interesting and well written, and while I don't think either child has much interest in becoming a police officer, it does add to their general knowledge of the world around them, and of course it is also useful just to improve reading skills.
The book begins by telling us a bit about Batman. Unlike most comic book heroes, Batman has no super powers. instead he combines intelligence, skill , and a vast amount of training with high tech gadgetry. In this book he compares his activities both to those of an ordinary police officer on the beat, and detectives and forensic investigators. In short, Batman has made a science of catching criminals.
The next pages tell us a bit about the history of crime, the development of laws and of modern police forces. This is simple and quite basic, but even so gives a child a real idea of how laws were first made, and how measures were taken to enforce them. Although this book does seem to be American, I was pleased that Sir Robert Peel was mentioned, as well as London's first law enforcement group - The Bow Street Runners. I would also note that a British police officer is shown later in the book as well. The book then moves on to modern police forces, various branches and special teams.
The next section involves quite a lot of science as well, as children learn about everything from preserving the crime scene and collecting evidence to the use of high tech forensics labs. A drawing of the Batcave shows Batman's own forensics lab complete with electron microscope, a DNA spectrogram and more. This explains everything from microscopic fiber analysis to ballistics, DNA profiling and fingerprint analysis. I was impressed at the number of complex subjects which were presented in a manner that even a very young child could fully understand.
A section on police vehicles follows the science pages, and this mixes many of Batman's high tech vehicles with modern police vehicles. Police equipment comes next, and of course a few of Batman's gadgets are described as well before moving on to communications, criminals and prisons. The famous criminals are American with the exception of Ned Kelly, and a few of the comic strip villains are thrown as well. Real life prisons are shown along with Arkham asylum. I noticed that the book does state that criminals are often sent to prisons for "rehabilitation" and to learn skills which will allow them to become useful members of society on their release. I don't think many people buy this anymore, but other than that it was well written.
My favourite part in this book is two pages on Dr James Brussel, the father of modern day profiling who used psychiatric knowledge to help catch New York's Mad Bomber in 1957, and later helped with the Albert De Salvo case as well. As much as I liked this part, I have to admit, I do not believe my son, age 7 fully understood this with a bit more discussion. I still think that is fair enough though, the book is intended for children a bit older, and I am always happy to go into a bit more detail on any subject so that the children can fully understand new subjects. After discussing this, my son found the whole idea "cool".
This book is level four in DK's leveled reading programme. It is intended for children who are already reading proficiently and I would expect would be aimed at children ages 8+. The reading level is fairly adult, and more complex than many children's chapter books. My son is age 7 and was able to read this, but he did need help with a few words, as well finding a few words that he was completely unfamiliar with, and I did need to explain what they meant, including the word "proficient". A few other difficult words included "perpetrator", "forensic psychology" and "deoxyribonucleic acid" which we were familiar with, but have no hope of pronouncing so I have told my son just to substitute the much easier "DNA" whenever it comes up. I prefer books with a few difficult words though. To me an ideal book with have a handful of new and difficult words, but the majority will be words the child is already familiar with. This way they can learn a few new words without becoming frustrated. This book was borderline on being just a bit too hard, but as I was available to help out it was fine.
I am giving this book 5 stars. True it may not be as much fun as Batman comic book - but it does exactly what it sets out to do. It helps children improve their reading and vocabulary while learning about non fiction subjects in a fun and relatively easy manner. It may not be read as often as a favourite comic or story book, but I believe a child should have a good non fiction bookshelf as well, and this a perfect addition to a family or school library.