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Review: Catching Up with Toon Books–New Titles!

Toon Books, the critically acclaimed and award-winning publisher of comics for early readers, has certainly made a splash since Kate and I first looked at their work two years ago. Their 2011 works are a mix of old friends–a new Silly Lilly book, a Patrick story from Geoffrey Hayes, and a Hilary Knight graphic novel–and creators who may be new to American readers–French children’s book creator Philippe Courdray.

Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today?
Agnès Rosenstiehl
Ages 5-7; Grades K-2
Toon Books, February 2011, ISBN 978-1-935179-08-5
32 pages, $12.95

When I read Rosenstiehl’s first Toon Book title, Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons, I wasn’t sure I liked the flat style of art, which has the main character marching across the long pages much like the decorations on an Egyptian tomb. But now, as I’ve had a change to let Rosenstiehl’s paintings sink in, I realize I was wrong. There’s something very appealing about the simplicity of Rosenstiehl’s strong black outlines, bright paint colors, and large square panels filled with just enough detail to set the scene without any of the elements becoming overwhelming. Here Rosenstiehl has Lilly exploring different careers, which allows her to discuss colors, name the days of the week, explore the use of imagination, and easily define complex concepts like “city planner.” All while having a lot of fun!

Patrick in A Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Other Stories
Geoffrey Hayes
Ages 6-8; Grades 1-3
Toon Books, April 2011, ISBN 978-1-935179-09-2
32 pages, $12.95

Hayes’ Benny and Penny in the Big No-No won the 2010 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award and the others in the Benny and Penny series have proved to be a hit with kids, so I was pretty excited when his newest Toon Book came out. Hayes published a number of the Patrick books in the 1980s, so it’s nice that his work is being introduced to a new generation. While it can be hard to do a story collection in a mere 32 pages, Hayes succeeds admirably. The main tale shows the adventures that occur while planning a simple picnic. Readers also meet the bully Big Bear, who is the antagonist of the third story. In between is a quick naptime story which both parents and kids will see the humor in. Kids will find Patrick easy to identify with and will laugh at his frank statements and his attempts to avoid Big Bear. Adults will appreciate the sweetness of the tales and everyone will enjoy Hayes’ softly colored, highly detailed artwork which joyfully spills across the pages.

Nina in That Makes Me Mad!
Hilary Knight; based on a text by Steven Kroll
Ages 6-8; Grades 1-3
Toon Books, September 2011, ISBN 978-1-935179-10-8
32 pages, $12.95

Kroll’s Nina has had an interesting publishing history. Originally titled That Makes Me Mad! It was first published in 1976 with illustrations by Knight (best known as the creator of Eloise) and then was reissued in 2002 with illustrations by Christine Davenier. Toon Books has gone back to the Knight illustrations for a graphic novel that kids will completely understand. After all, who hasn’t been mad when people don’t understand you or blame you for things you didn’t do or when you don’t want to have to do what you’re told? Knight’s illustrations have a slightly retro feel to them, but in a purposeful way. They’ve aged well, much like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. Each chapter has its own color scheme, which ties the book together nicely. This is a fun choice for tempermental tikes and a fitting memorial to Kroll, who died in March.

Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking
Philippe Coudray
Ages 7-9; Grades 2-4
Toon Books, August 2011, ISBN 978-1-935179-12-2
32 pages, $12.95

Coudray has been publishing the silly adventures of his serious bear since 1997. Called L’Ours Barnabé in France, he’s Benjamin Bear here (though no relation to the Candle Books series by Claire Freedman and Steve Smallman). And he is funny! Think Far Side for the elementary school set. Each page is one joke, mostly driven by Benjamin’s offbeat take on the world. The jokes are mostly visual, which makes them perfect for the comic medium, and Coudray’s simple art is perfect for delivering punch lines. His art is child appropriate, but Coudray sets his art away from the reader a bit and uses a more realistic color palette. The result feels mature, which helps age up this title a bit and makes it a good choice for third and fourth graders who aren’t strong readers.

Teachers, parents, and librarians should check out the Toon Books website. There are classroom tools, which include reading lists, teacher resources, and more. There’s a guide to reading comics with children. Kids can play with creating their own comics or download crafts at the Fun for Kids page. The Benny & Penny Blog has resources for emerging readers. Plus you can check out the other high quality and strongly recommended titles available from Toon Books!

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Toon Books.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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