Looking outside my window today, I see a heckuva lot of snow and frigid temperatures. But spring is already in the air over at Toon Books, and I’ve got their entire lineup of spring releases to share with you today.
First of all, for the uninitiated, Toon Books began as a labor of love by husband-and-wife duo Françoise Mouly (Art Editor for The New Yorker) and Art Spiegelman (Maus). Their mission was to publish high-quality comics designed for children ages 3 and up, and they’ve succeeded in making some of the most remarkably original (and beautiful) illustrated books available today.
Toon Books titles are presented with four reading levels: Level 1 (first comics for brand-new readers), Level 2 (easy-to-read comics for beginning readers), Level 3 (chapter books for advanced readers), and TOON Graphics (for ages 8+).
They recently made a splash with a haunting version of Hansel and Gretel penned by Neil Gaiman. (See here for my review of that book.) But we’re here today to take a look ahead at what they’ve got coming in the next few months. And it’s a great lineup!
First up is Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadja Speigelman and Sergio García Sánchez. This TOON Graphic releases on April 7.
I’m a sucker for maps, and when a book begins with a good map, then I’m immediately sold. Lost in NYC opens with a doozy: a closeup of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn with the New York City subway map overlaid. This might be a weird admission, but I adore the NYC subway. I love the map, I love the maze of crisscrossing colors, and I love the experience of riding the trains through the warren of tunnels beneath the city, above the streets, and over bridges. It’s one of the must-do experiences in New York.
So, all of that to say that this book probably had an unfair advantage on my InstaLike-o-MeterTM. It follows a group of school kids on a field trip to the Empire State Building. Two kids get separated from the group along the way, and we learn a surprising amount of history about the NYC subway and the Empire State Building. There’s even an appendix with more detailed information and historical photos!
Segio García Sánchez’s illustrations are beautiful, and the book is filled with gorgeous two-page spreads that don’t waste a single inch of real estate. My kids and I had fun just poring over the pages and making up stories for everyone in the scenes. (As an added bonus, two background characters appear on almost every spread, and you can follow their game of cat-and-mouse throughout the book.)
We Dig Worms! by Kevin McCloskey is a Level 1 book releasing on April 14. It’s a charmingly illustrated book about worms and worm facts. Since it’s a Level 1 book (for brand-new readers), it’s not incredibly in-depth, but it does contain a surprising amount of information….and a few laughs. My daughter (budding naturalist that she is) loved the detailed “map of the worm” and was audibly astonished at several of the facts. Worms have five pairs of hearts! One worm can have 100 babies! Fascinating stuff.
Next up is Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms! by Philippe Coudray. It’s a Level 2 book releasing on April 28. This is the third book in the Benjamin Bear series (Fuzzy Thinking and Bright Ideas! are both available now and were both Eisner Award nominees!). However, this was our first exposure to the character. The book is presented as a series of self-contained, one-page comic strips. Each strip ends with a gag that bends the rules of common sense or breaks the laws of physics. Most, though, are laugh-out-loud funny. We ended nearly every page with a laugh, and you can’t really ask for much more than that. Especially at bedtime.
The last two books for the season are both TOON Graphic books. The second book in the Philémon series, The Wild Piano, comes out on May 12. And the second book in the Greek mythology series, Orpheus in the Underworld by Yvan Pommaux, comes out on June 2.
Philémon is a French character who’s been around since 1965. His stories, however, have never been published in English before now. Therefore, in the pantheon of French-language comics, he’s mostly been relegated to Tintin’s and Asterix’s shadows. TOON recently published his first adventure, Cast Away on the Letter A, and it was such a success that they expedited the release of this second book. (See here for my review of that first book.)
Philémon’s adventures are the pinnacle of absurdist comedy. Imagine if Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss had together imagined the most incredible people and places, and you’re on the right track. The Wild Piano is a continuation of the story from the first book. Technically, you don’t need to have read the first book to understand this one, but the setting is so fanciful that it sure does help.
In this book, Philémon is arrested and taken captive for bouncing on blue grass. He’s locked up inside a zebra as punishment, and his only chance of escape is to enter the arena and tame a wild piano (by playing a chord). If he can do that, he wins a ride in an elevator. See?
Thankfully, it makes a bit more sense when you read it. This is complete and total fantasy. Kids will love the absurdity of it all, and if your kids are anything like mine, you’ll hear a lot of “But that’s impossible!” comments while reading. The book also features a nice appendix that gives some background on the various influences at play here: Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and Greek mythology.
Speaking of Greek mythology, we come to the last of the bunch: Orpheus in the Underworld. This series began with Theseus and the Minotaur and continues with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read my Edith Wharton, but by page 2 of this book, the story came flooding back. What makes this version so appealing is that it’s written in a style that simply begs to be read aloud. Which makes perfect sense, as it’s a myth that was kept alive for thousands of years by bards and storytellers.
The writing is so fluid, so natural, that when I first read it to myself, I actually began reading it aloud. It just felt wrong not to (props due here to translator Richard Kutner).
This version of the myth should find a natural home in bedrooms and classrooms alike, as it makes the story eminently accessible…and engaging. The index also serves as a fine resource, including brief descriptions of the many characters and places mentioned in the story.
Plus, the book ends with a map of the Underworld. Did I mention that I love maps?
And there you have it! The spring 2015 lineup from Toon Books. Go forth and preorder!