2.10.2013

TOON BOOKS: Why I Love Them and Why You Should, Too!

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200 - 300 Easy Sight Words, Short Sentences
Often One Character, Single Time Frame or Theme, 1 -2 Panels per Page

I realize that I am often going on about the lack of high quality, beginning to read books that have appealing content both visually and texturally, and believe me, every title published by TOON Books meets all my criteria for a great beginning reader book, but really, above all else, these are just spectacular picture books that happen to be ideal for emerging readers. I have read every book in the series out loud to pre-readers during story time at the book store and to my own pre-reader and kids love them. But, because Fran├žoise Mouly, editorial director at TOON and art editor for The New Yorker magazine, and her husband, Art Speigelman, series advisor at TOON as well as author of the Pulitzer Prize Letters award winning autobiographical graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor's Tale, specifically set out to create a line of books that would be appealing in all ways as well as appropriate for emerging readers, I will discuss them in this context first and foremost.


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300 - 600 Words, Short Sentences and Repetition, 
Story Arc with Few Characters in a Small World, 
1 - 4 Panels per Page

As Mouly recounted in an interview, the lack of visual clues and interesting stories in most beginning reader books shocked her when her now teenage son was learning to read. Mouly, who says that those early readers "nearly killed his love of reading," felt that this dearth was a blow to "what had been, until then, a bonding moment" between parent and child. As a native of France, which, like Japan has a rich tradition of appreciation for comic books, Mouly decided to teach her son to read using her large collection of French comics. Through this experience, Mouly learned that comics are perfectly suited to the beginning reader genre. As Mouly notes, with a typical beginning reader book, the words are written first and all of the story and clues to meaning are in the text, the pictures serving mostly to "gild the lily." With a comic book, "the narrative flow is sketched out first, then the text is filled in. If you don't understand the words, then you still get the gist because the sense is in the pictures." In addition to bringing this brilliant insight to her books, Mouly worked with teachers and reading experts to ensure that the vocabulary in the books is appropriate for beginning readers at various stages. When I first wrote this review in 2009, my son was not even remotely interested in learning how to read. In the intervening years he has had a great kindergarten year with a phenomenal teacher (eternal thanks to Mr Bruce Swanson) and accumulated a great bank of sight words and a burgeoning interest in reading on his own. Three months into his first grade year, he jumped that magic hurdle and now WANTS to read on his own. As I said in my recent review of Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, this was the first book that my son took to bed with him to read by himself. It was so amazing to wake up the next morning and peek in to see him reading (and laughing) happily. I am eternally grateful to Mouly and all the authors writing for TOON Books, not only for sparking interest in my son, but for creating a series of books that allowed that spark to be illuminated at least a year earlier than it might have otherwise. Just this morning I pulled a few "chapter books" off the shelf to see if my son was ready to give them a try and his response was, "No, mom. I am only reading comic books right now." And with that he tucked a copy of Kazu Kibuishi's first book in the Amulet series into his backpack.

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800 - 1000 Words in Long Sentences, Broad World as well as Shifts in Time and Place,
Long Story Divided into Chapters, Reader Needs to Make Connections and Speculate

There are currently sixteen books in the series. Having read and loved them all, I have to confess that I do have favorites. Geoffrey Hayes' Benny & Penny books remind me a lot of books from my childhood and a little bit of Beatrix Potter and Garth Williams artistic styles. Hayes' books are colorful, magical and gentle and, even though they fight, Benny and Penny find their way to being friends and siblings by the end of the story. Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith is another favorite of mine. Like Geoffrey Hayes, his artwork is sweet and gentle and his story is engrossing and ultimately laugh out loud funny. Jeff Smith is also the author of the very, very popular (mostly among pre-teen boys, especially those who love the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series) graphic novel series Bone. However, if I had to pick only one TOON Book to take to a desert island, it would be first time author/illustrator Eleanor Davis's Stinky, winner of the American Library Association's honor award for the most distinguished book for beginning readers, the (Theodore Seuss) Geisel Award. A seemingly simple story about a prickly little monster who wants to keep a curious fort-building boy out of his swamp, Stinky is completely charming and visually stunning.

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The Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra is the debut graphic novel in this new level of reader from TOON!


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Eleanor Davis is also the creator of a fantastic graphic novel for slightly older readers, Secret Science Alliance!

2 comments:

T. said...

Tanya,
We adore these books! We purchased the "I Don't Like to Read" set of books (even though she loves to read - these were just at the right level for her) from their website because we already owned the first Benny & Penny book and often used their fun website (can you say 'cartoon maker'?!).


The first B&P book was the first book that our 4 yo read from cover to cover by herself. We wanted more, so she has been circling through these lovely hardcover editions all year.

I'm with you on Eleanor Davis and Stinky! It is endlessly entertaining to read because of all the fabulous visual detail. And it inspired us to borrow The Secret Science Alliance from the library. Not-yet-5yo daughter could *not* get enough of this book. She poured over the words and complex diagrams every spare waking moment -- until we had to return it.

Thank you for the wonderful work that you do in giving these talented authors and illustrators their due! Your blog is one of the very few that I visit regularly -- always worthwhile content. Keep up the good work. : )

Tanya said...

T. - Thank you so much for sharing your (and your daughter's) experiences with these books and an even bigger thank you for your kind words! It's so gratifying to know that books that I am passionate about are embraced by other parents and kids! I LOVE Davis's SSA to bits and hope she's working on another kid's book, although her work for adults is remarkable as well. Thanks again for your comment - you made my day!