Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman have been taking comics very seriously for a very long time. The couple founded Raw Books in the late '70s/early '80s and introduced many cutting edge artists to the world via their groundbreaking RAW anthology/magazine. Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his Holocaust narrative, Maus, one of the first graphic novels I remember reading. Mouly is the art director of The New Yorker and an accomplished book editor and designer. In 2000, she launched a RAW Junior imprint, responsible for the Little Lit series of books that anthologize comics intentionally written and drawn for kids by a wide range of notable artists and cartoonists such as Maurice Sendak, Paul Auster, Ian Falconer, David Sedaris, Jules Feiffer, Lemony Snicket, Gahan Wilson, and Neil Gaiman. In 2008, she launched Toon Books as an imprint of hardcover comic books specifically designed to encourage emerging readers:
Toon Books are the first high-quality comics designed for children ages four and up. Each book in the collection is just right for reading to the youngest child but perhaps more remarkable: this is the first collection ever designed to offer newly-emerging readers comics they can read themselves.
We've enjoyed several of Toon Books' offerings. The artwork and printing is just gorgeous and the stories are simple but not stupid– a problem I have with much childrens' literature. My personal favorite is Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl, which was one of Publishers Weekly's Best Children's Picture Books of 2008. The drawings and inking style are reminiscent of old school comics and the story moves simply through the four seasons with a sweet, gentle tone:
Roo and Jasper's favorite is Benny and Penny in Just Pretend by Geoffrey Hayes. They really enjoy the interaction between mouse siblings, even when it's less than cordial. I think they can definitely relate!
We got a sneak peek of a new Toon Books title, that will be released this coming week. Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith is a doozy. The drawings are totally endearing and Little Mouse's enthusiasm as he gets dressed for a busy day is infectious, right up until the surprise ending… which will have young kids laughing out loud. My kids thought it was hilarious, at any rate.
Look for Toon Books wherever fine books are sold.