Catching Up With Toon Books: A Year’s Worth of Releases
I’ve been remiss in getting behind on the wonderful Toon Books comics for young and beginning readers. Before these most recent releases, I’ve covered all their previous books; you can find links here.
Silly Lilly in What Will I Be Today?
by Agnes Rosenstiehl
I didn’t care much for the previous Silly Lilly book, but this one is much more focused. Each four-page sequence, with two panels per page, shows Lilly engaged in some new activity, from cooking (which has some color surprises) to making music with her toys as audience.
While the figure art is oddly flat, with Lilly shown in perfect profile, the portrait of her movement and creativity, energy and imagination, is attractive and involving. The pictures are crucial to supporting the simple vocabulary and sentences. Lilly’s choices are suitably off-kilter for a kid, too; I laughed at the idea that one of her choices was “vampire”.
Patrick in A Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Other Stories
by Geoffrey Hayes
Hayes has previously created three other books in the Toon line, all starring brother and sister mice Benny and Penny, Just Pretend, The Big No-No!, and The Toy Breaker. Here, he returns to his earlier children’s book character, Patrick, a baby bear.
There are two longer stories and two interstitials about naptime in this volume. In the first tale, Patrick and his mother go on a picnic, and not even the bully Big Bear can spoil the day. There’s sailing a boat on the river and flowers and hide-and-seek, all classic, comfortable family activities. The second is another showdown with Big Bear, as he tries to steal the cookies Patrick’s mom sent him to buy. The solution Patrick finds is traditional, if based a little on wishful thinking.
The characters are adorable, a cross between koalas and stuffed animals. The clearly warm feeling between mother and son should be touching and reassuring to young readers.
Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking
by Philippe Coudray
Like Agnes Rosenstiehl, Coudray is French, and this work has been translated. It’s more traditionally comic-like than many of the other books in the line, with multiple panels on the page and less of a children’s book illustrative style.
Each page is a titled story of its own, with silly endings that show how the bear always gets the best of every situation. He’s got rabbit and bear and fox friends, and they do bizarre things, including painting, fishing, karate, and hang-gliding.
With all the content, this book is a great value with a lot of imaginative situations. It’ll encourage a new way of looking at the world for the reader, focused on problem-solving with what you have and teamwork. This was my favorite of the bunch, because it had the most to think about.
Nina in That Makes Me Mad!
by Hilary Knight, based on text by Steven Kroll
Knight is best known for illustrating Kay Thompson’s Eloise series, so adults sharing this book with kids will welcome the familiar style. The children, meanwhile, will love Nina’s outspokenness and the firm focus on what she wants and what she doesn’t like.
Each double-page spread is a short vignette of Nina, whether being blamed for her little brother acting up or demonstrating she’s capable of more than her parents think. She’s a little girl, so she’s not always right, and she welcomes guidance when it truly helps her. She also demands attention and hates to go to bed, just like a real kid.
It’s a charming collection of incidents, and the book encourages communication, so kids don’t have to suffer alone.
Chick & Chickie Play All Day!
by Claude Ponti
One of the many reasons Toon Books are neat is their focus on art and artists. I just noticed that the copyright page lists the method of creation of the work; in this case, it’s “ink and watercolors”. That’s a fascinating insight into how comics come to be.
This is a book for younger readers, with one image per page. The two birds make masks, and then they play with a letter A with a face. It’s a goofy book. I wish the space had been used more effectively — there are sequences where one page out of the spread of two is almost blank.
Zig and Wikki in The Cow
by Nadja Spiegelman & Trade Loeffler
Spiegelman, daughter of Toon Books Editorial Director Francoise Mouly, returns to the line with another Zig and Wikki book. The two alien characters provide an excuse for science education content. In this case, they’re visiting a farm, where they learn about interconnected ecosystems.
Loeffler’s art is terrific, with bold lines surrounding foreground figures to draw the reader’s eye. He can handle both the fantastic, exaggerated aliens (one resembles a talking TV screen) while his natural items (such as the cows) are close enough to the real world to be believable.
Kids will be fascinated by some of the grosser occurrences, as the aliens investigating flies and dung beetles that live off of poop. They’ll also learn how a cow eats and burps. (The publisher provided review copies.)