Credit: Eleanor Davis
Françoise Mouly is one brilliant woman. She’s been on a roll since founding TOON Books in 2008, and now she’s received the Smithsonian’s “Ingenuity Award” for her work in education! On November 12, Jeff MacGregor for Smithsonian online interviewed Mouly about her “comic book hero” image, and she shared her inspiration for the press and her brilliant understanding of children.
The idea for TOON Books sprung out of Mouly’s experiences learning English (she’s a native French speaker) and when she became a mother, she realized how beneficial comics are when you are learning a language: “it’s almost like sketching out language for you. . . . Reading is making meaning out of squiggles, but the thing with comics is that no one has ever had to teach a child how to find Waldo.” Though the big houses rejected her queries to create high-quality and smart comics, Mouly persevered and eventually TOON Books was created. Now, Mouly is glad that she’s not attached to a large press, because she has the freedom to “make books happen without having to explain and justify.”
The key to Mouly’s success as a publisher is her keen insight into the minds of children and her respect for their learning styles and interests. Specifically, their natural penchant for re-reading books: “Kids naturally want you to read them the same book every single night. . . . they get something different every time. . . .The ambition is not to make something that will want to be read, but to make something that can be reread.”
The Smithsonian interview calls Mouly a “transformative figure in the history of comics,” partly because she has made it okay for teachers to use comics in the classroom, and because she has melted away the stigma against comics. TOON Books is simply a work of love for Mouly, especially because she gets to work with her husband, artist Art Spiegelman: “most people are asked to separate their private lives from their work lives. I am so privileged that my work life is what I love and I love what I do in my work.” Even though Mouly modestly refuses to call herself a hero, she certainly is one in the eyes of many.
Art and Françoise with their children, Nadja and Dash. Photo credit: Mackin Compendium
A “power couple in publishing,” Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman are revolutionizing the way people view comics and graphic novels. Spiegelman wrote and illustrated Maus, a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel, and Mouly works for the New York Times as the arts editor. Together, they created TOON Books, a “micro-publishing imprint,” that provides high-quality comics to readers of all ages – from infancy to adulthood – that engage, entertain, and educate readers. Spiegelman, Mouly, and their daughter Nadja (also a TOON author) sat down with Amy Meythaler for Mackin Compendium to discuss their inspiration for creating the educational comics as well as their plans to grow TOON Books.
Spiegelman and Mouly always had comic books available for their children to read, and Nadja and Dash spent hours with their friends perusing the stacks and quickly devouring the stories. Spiegelman and Mouly noticed how beneficial comics were to young readers yet the limited exposure they had to comics, so they started creating comic collections and orignal stories aimed at younger readers. Eventually, Mouly returned to her independent publishing roots and they created TOON Books in 2007. Now, 8 years later, they have more than 30 leveled comic readers and are launching TOON Graphics, which features comics geared towards readers eight to twelve.
TOON Books is widely accepted by educators, librarians, parents, and children. Educators vet the comics to ensure the illustrations and narratives nurture the minds of the young readers and are leveled correctly. Mouly and Spiegelman create lesson plans for each comic that go along with the Common Core State Standards as well. Educational and fun, children love the comics because they can actually read them on their own. As Mouly said in the interview, “Visual narrative helps kids crack the code that allows literacy to flourish. […] Many of the issues that emerging readers have traditionally struggled with are instantly clarified by comics’ simple and inviting format.” As Art Spiegelman said,”comics are a gateway drug to literacy,” and TOON Books is happily providing them to readers of all ages.
Françoise-Mouly, courtesy of GOOD Magazine
Last Monday, the art editor at the New Yorker and founder of TOON Books got a spot smack dab in the middle of GOOD Magazine. Françoise Mouly, whose relationship with comics began when she was learning English (she’s a native Frenchwoman), spoke with GOOD‘s associate editor Jed Oelbaum about kids, her 22-year stint with the New Yorker, and, of course, the incredible cultural and educational value of cartoons.
In the interview, Mouly explained that comics are important to build visual literacy, which is just as important in today’s image-driven media as word literacy. Quoting her husband, Art Spiegelman, Mouly said of the comic, “it’s a gateway to literature, as Art says, a gateway drug to reading.”
Reading is pleasure, and that’s Mouly’s entire philosophy behind TOON Books, and the captivating and playful titles that she continues to churn out. From Perdidos en NYC: una aventura en el metro by Nadja Spiegelman and illustrated by Sergio García Sánchez, to Stinky written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis, Mouly’s cartoon books are fun for children and adults, which is completely intentional: “I think it’s really important to acknowledge that both as children and adults, we are driven by a very simple pleasure principle. It has to be pleasurable to read. It has to have literary value, it has to be a good story, it has to have something where if you spend time with the pictures, it can convey a lot of meaning.”