“I like to make something with my own hands,” explains Françoise Mouly. The art director for The New Yorker stands at a light table in her home studio in downtown New York City, fingers covered in glue. She’s pasting in text changes for TOON Books, a new series of hardbound comics for beginning readers that she and her husband, Art Spiegelman, are publishing under their RAW Junior imprint. Six titles are due out this spring and fall. [Update: Due to high demand, Raw Junior will release all three comics simultaneously on April 7.] Contributors so far include Geoffrey Hayes, Frank Cammuso, Jay Lynch, Eleanor Davis, Spiegelman, and French picture-book star Agnès Rosenstiehl, whose Silly Lilly (above) Mouly adapted into comic-book form for the project.
Mouly was inspired to start the series when she and Spiegelman saw the ways their daughter and son learned to read (before they started raiding Spiegelman’s mint comic collection). TOON books aren’t just charming—they contain building blocks for both verbal and visual literacy. Mouly (who also happens to have studied neuroscience herself) thinks both are vital, despite the dispiritingly prevalent view that “the whole point of being literate is to leave the pictures behind.” She worked with educators to ensure that the books are pedagogically sound, then road-tested them in classrooms. The state of Maryland—which recently launched a program to use comics in schools—will use the TOONs as textbooks.
In Mouly’s vision, bookstore chains will have a comics section just for children, and parents will be able to grab a TOON book from a display table at Costco. “Kids love books,” she says. “They genuinely do.” EMILY GORDON