Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Toon Books: Kevin McCloskey and Frank Viva

Francoise Mouly's Toon Books line aimed at emerging readers continues to be a remarkable success, as it draws in artists from the world of children's lit and alternative comics to craft comics. In addition to providing a platform for emerging readers to become confident as they combine word and image, Toon Books has added a "Giggle And Learn" line to help teach the basics of science. Toon Books are also smartly using a variety of different price points after years of publishing only more expensive. The beautifully-designed hardcovers are $12.95, while the softcover editions are $6.95. Amazingly enough, that's not much more than the cost of the average comic book these days.

Kevin McCloskey has been the go-to for the "Giggle And Learn" sub-series. He painted each page, and one can actually see the texture of the paint reflected on the page. It's a nice touch, adding to the organic quality of each image. He mostly uses an open page layout, usually with a single image dominating each page. That helps the medicine go down a bit easier, like in The Real Poop On Pigeons. This is a truly bizarre story at its essence, when a guy on a park bench declares that he doesn't like pigeons, only to be accosted by a group of kids in pigeon costumes. They insist on telling him all the things they like about pigeons, like their history carrying mail, Picasso's love for them, the various breeds that exist, and how they generate "crop milk" for their young. As a reader, I'm not sure their case is a convincing one, but they do get across some interesting facts.

McCloskey also wrote Ants Don't Wear Pants, which he painted on old paper grocery bags. That kind of paper holds paint nicely, and the conceit of this book was more interesting. A girl shrinks down to examine ants up close and learns all sorts of things about their eating habits and anatomy. Whereas Real Poop felt padded, this book is jam-packed with information and excellent illustrations. Any kid who loves insects will enjoy this book. It's also packed with some solid jokes to go with all of the data.

Frank Viva's first book for Toon, A Trip To The Bottom Of The World With Mouse was one of the very best books in the entire line. My child read and re-read this book constantly, and some of their first attempts to successfully read out loud came with this book. His second book, A Trip To The Top Of The Volcano With Mouse, is just as good. It mirrors the structure of the first, as Mouse goes with the author to climb Mount Etna, but all Mouse wants is pizza. However, as the story goes on, Mouse notices and recites all sorts of observations about what he sees. It's a geography and Earth science book that has an irresistible rhythm to its storytelling. Viva uses every inch of the book to tell the story, including the endpapers and credits pages. Composed in illustrator, Viva takes advantage of this by intentionally flattening everything and simplifying all figures while still accurately describing everything. This approach allows the reader to become fully immersed in the story, which makes the medicine of reading a bunch of facts go down smoothly. I admire Mouly's willingness to try a number of different approaches to see what sticks, especially since these books are so widely used in schools.

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