Sparking Creativity in the Classroom With Toon Books For Younger Readers
by Richard Bruton
Toon Books are now 15 years old and are continuing to change the way comics are thought of for young readers…
Fifteen years ago, Toon Book’s Editorial Director, Françoise Mouly, launched the revolutionary graphic novel imprint to introduce comics to younger readers.
Back then the whole idea of comics was seen, apart from a few enlightened educators as something below books, something that might be nice to entertain the kids but not a replacement for ‘real’ books. Sure, there were graphic novels for older readers that may have crept onto College and University syllabuses, but nothing really for younger readers.
And then along came Toon Books, publishing material designed to be for readers at the Kindergarten/Nursery and Grades 1-3+ reading level.
Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books was obviously doing something right, as their extensive backlist and glittering array of awards should tell you. They produce books at four different interest/reading levels and include authors and artists including Lilli Carré, Philippe Coudray, Eleanor Davis, Renée French, Neil Gaiman, R. Kikuo Johnson, Liniers, Lorenzo Mattotti, Agnes Rosenstiehl, Jeff Smith, Art Spiegelman, James Sturm.
Nowadays, most teachers worth their salt include comics as a valuable reading resource for all ages. And now, the prestigious Lucy Calkins’ Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) has collaborated with Toon Books to produce their latest textbook: Graphic Novels: Writing in Pictures and Words! – their first writing unit to focus specifically on graphic novels.
“The work teachers and librarians do in the classroom is nothing short of miraculous–watching Hareem A. Khan, Eric Hand, and Lucy Calkins herself apply their expertise and insights to comics has been one of the rewarding experiences of my publishing career. I can’t wait to welcome the new generation of comics creators and readers that this guide is bound to spark!” – Françoise Mouly, Toon Books
The unit, heavily illustrated with doodles and diagrams, helps all teachers understand the visual elements of comics storytelling. Teachers, even if they lack drawing skills, can help students in grades 4 to 6 develop their own writing and storytelling crafts and guide them to create their own graphic novels. The guide is packaged with Comics: Easy as ABC! by Ivan Brunetti and Stinky by Eleanor Davis and uses multiple TOON Books as references.
If you’ve never seen Toon Books in your local comic shop – well, you should really ask the owner why the heck not. Personally, I ran a wonderful library in a primary school a few years back which ended up having the biggest primary school graphic novel library in the UK. And I can tell you that the children absolutely loved having access to comics and graphic novels. And it certainly helped with their literacy skills – but far more importantly, I’d like to think that it established a love of reading that they’ll carry with them through their lives.
So, whether you’re a parent of young children, or whether you work in schools, please, please take a look at both the Graphic Novels: Writing in Pictures and Words! text book and the material produced by Toon Books – it’s a surefire way to get young children into reading.
Toon Books have a great website, packed with activities for younger children, and with plenty of ideas for parents and teachers.
Just to give you a nice idea of what sort of books they’re producing, here’s a little look at a few award-winning Level Two and Three titles that are being released in paperback for the first time
Benjamin Bear – by Phillipe Coudray
“In Philippe Coudray’s best-selling Eisner-Award-winning series, Benjamin Bear comes up with zany solutions to his friends’ problems, makes the most of silly situations, and delights kids when his absurd problem-solving leads him into trouble. Follow along with his latest antics in Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms! and Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas! (Benjamin Bear fans can complete the beautiful softcover collection with our previously released Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking.)”
Good Night, Planet, Written and Drawn by Henrietta, Wildflowers – by Liniers
Explore the wonders of childhood with world-renowned cartoonist (and father of three) Liniers. Good Night, Planet follows the twilight adventures of a young girl’s beloved stuffed animal. In Written and Drawn by Henrietta, Liniers invites readers to join in the creative process of a budding young author. Wildflowers highlights the magic of imagination and the bonds between sisters. All three join The Big Wet Balloon in paperback, offering a whole new way for young readers to discover the beauty, charm, and humor that has earned Liniers’ titles Eisner Awards and starred reviews, as well as the love of thousands of fans.