Re-read more:
I don't know if everyone is compulsively driven to re-read the books they love, but chances are that if you loved something once, you'll still love it, or at least some part of it. Until you get to the point you can recite the entire thing by memory, re-reading lets you re-live that first moment you began to realize you were reading something really special. Especially if you've just read something that left you disinterested, you'll be amazed at how good it feels to read something great.  


But, also, to re-read while I'm reading something for the first time; to go back to passages that seem elusive or mysterious, or are thornily dense with hidden meanings. While I tend to gobble my way as quickly as I can, there's something to be said for stopping to smell the sentences. 

Take more notes:
It always feels sacrilegious to scribble in the margin of a book (like defiling the skin of some holy text), but like dreams, the brilliant insights you think you had while reading Kafka will soon disappear into the labyrinthine hoarder's lair that is the brain. I'm not saying you should write in your books. I'm saying post-it notes work just as well (and now, you can re-evaluate your old ideas once you've sobered up from the reader's high). 

Read outside of your comfort zone:
Try to read, from time to time, a book you think you won't like. Sometimes, you'll have changed your mind. 
And, more generally, be more creative in your selection process. Take unlikely recommendations. Spend more time in physical bookstores wandering slowly from rack to rack until you've gathered a stack. Spend more time in libraries. Find out what your favorite writers are reading (because they're probably reading a lot). 


Read complete sets:

Though it's more daunting with D.H. Lawrence than J.D. Salinger, there's no reason not to read the entire life's work of an author you worship. Even the failures, absurdities and oddities will charm, in their own way.

No wasted opportunities:
It's very easy to spend 3 hours surfing the Internet without really thinking about it. And it's hard to cut yourself off from the world when your phone seems to track your movements. But there isn't all that much time in the day to read -- so use it. And, when you have an entire day or night with nothing to do, consider letting yourself have the chance to read for as long as you want, the way you used to.

Evangelize more aggressively:

If you tell a friend enough times that they should read something, they will eventually read it. 

Read what makes you happy:
Disregard the above. When you're alone with a book, you can do whatever you want, as long as you enjoy it. 
 
 
The New Yorker's first cover of 2013 is "Threshold," by Chris Ware, a follow-up to his "Back to School" September 2012 cover (below). The differences between these two covers eloquently show the distance we have traveled since Newtown. 
Ware is the father of a young child, and he's married to a public school teacher. This is a must read:
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/01/chris-wares-newtown-inspired-cover-for-the-new-yorker.html
 
 
Art (Spiegelman) posted a New Yorker cover he had done in 1993, nearly twenty years ago, with the following comment: "My wish for 2013: let Newtown be remembered as the turning point—I'm hoping that kids with guns can become ironic again."
As we entered the new year, the "kids with guns" image has been shared thousands of times, and has become a focal point for comments and debate. The back-and-forth is between those who share Art's simple wish, "No more!", and those who look at the image and see not a problem but the solution: let's put more weapons in the schools. Your thoughts? 
Would you feel safer if there were more weapons in schools? Let us know (because if you do, we may stay in Paris and not fly back to the US...)


 
 
As we count down to 2013, TOON wishes you all a wonderful holiday. Just a reminder: TOON Holiday Packs will be available until December 31st. And,  be advised that the TOON offices will be closed for the remainder of the year, beginning Monday. We'll see you all in the new year. Till then, please enjoy this animation, from Chavi Mariscal. 
 
 
Now that we've rounded up our own year in 2012, we'd like to take a look at some of our favorite books, movies, and other cultural moments in the past year. 

Books

Chris Ware's Building Stories
There's not a lot we can say that hasn't already been said about Chris Ware's masterpiece (already named to just about every best of list that's been published). This 14-part box detailing the stories of the lives of one building's inhabitants is both a visual and emotional treasure. 

Journalism by Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco's work has always been one of the best arguments for how comics can be a vehicle to report and explain the news. This book, a compilation of past pieces, also includes previously unseen material on the U.S. presence in Iraq.  

Drawn Together by R. and A. Crumb
Since the 1970s, R. Crumb and wife Aline have been drawing together. This book collects all of those drawings in one place to create an unexpectedly unfiltered look at both their creative process and personal relationship over the years. Keep your eyes peeled for a cameo from TOON advisor Art Spiegelman. 

The Best American Comics of 2012 
edited by Francoise Mouly
We admit this is a shameless plug for our fearless editor, Francoise Mouly, but don't just listen to us. The LA Times wrote that they "couldn't imagine a better editor" for the series, while the Boston Globe described the book as a "delicious Whitman sampler of American graphic offerings."

Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See by Francoise Mouly
There was also, of course, Blown Covers, which started as a website offering curious readers a peek behind-the-scenes of the New Yorker cover. The New York Times Book Review compared reading it to "standing in the corner of her office as she pins up rejected covers on the wall."

The Fallback Plan and Dispatch from the Future by Leigh Stein
A former TOON staffer (which doesn't influence our opinion at all, of course), Leigh Stein published not one, but two books in 2012. The first takes on the post-collegiate malaise while the second combines pop cultural literacy with emotional honesty. Buy them, read them, gift them to your friends and family. 

A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead 
This is a story about a bird looking for his home, and the toad who helps him. Everyone we know who has read this book has cried multiple times while doing so. 

Movies
The Secret World of Arietty directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Based on the classic children's book The Borrowers by Mary Norton about a family of very small people trying to survive, this Studio Ghibli treatment is beautifully animated and touchingly tender. 

This is Not a Film directed by Jafar Panahi
 In December 2010, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was sentenced to a 6-year jail sentence and a 20-year ban on making movies. Confined to house arrest and prohibited by the government from making movies as he waits there for the decision of the appeals court, Panahi nonetheless decided to make this movie. The film was smuggled out of Iran in a thumb drive hidden inside of a cake. This is a film that sneaks up on you quietly, that, without making any melodramatic pronouncements, highlights the injustice of Panahi's condition.

Monsieur Lazhar directed by Philippe Falardeau
An Algerian immigrant becomes the substitute teacher for a group of elementary school students whose previous teacher has just died. To say too much would be to ruin the impact of this gracefully told, unbearably poignant story. 
 
 
In 2012, TOON released seven new books, the most we’ve ever had in one year. In the spring, we released Chick and Chickie, Zig and Wikki in The Cow, and The Shark King, while the fall saw the premiere of Maya Makes a Mess, Benny and Penny in Light’s Out!, A Trip to the Bottom of the World and The Stone Frog (TOON’s first graphic novel!).

We’re very excited for 2013 -- which will bring a batch of brand-new paperback editions as well as some wonderful new titles -- but before we look forward, we wanted to take a look back at some of the highlights of the year. And don’t forget, TOON’s holiday packs for different levels include many of our 2012 favorites, at nearly half off the original prices.

Zig and Wikki in The Cow by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler
Named to Katie's Korner Top Ten 2012 Graphic Novels for Schools and Libraries List
On the NY Post's Required Reading column

Nadja and Trade visit Greenlight Bookstore

Chick & Chickie Play All Day! by Claude Ponti
A Junior Library Guild SelectionGreater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy “Book of the Month”
New York Times review, as part of a round-up on books for dads and kids

R. Kikuo Johnson at Greenlight Bookstore
R. Kikuo Johnson on the origins and inspirations for his book

Benny and Penny in Lights Out! by Geoffrey Hayes
The fourth in the "Benny and Penny" series
Starred review in Kirkus Reviews

Maya Makes a Mess by Rutu Modan
Named to the New York Public Library's 2012 List of 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
A graphic review in the New York Times
Starred review in Kirkus Reviews
Starred review in Publisher's Weekly

An interview with David Nytra
 
 
Are those jingle bells we hear, or is it just the sound of an amazing holiday deal? TOON is offering a selection of specially discounted holiday gift packs which will be available only until December 31st. 

For just 20 dollars, you'll receive two hardcover titles and one paperback, while for 37 dollars, you'll get four hardcovers and one paperback. Both levels of holiday pack are available in 3 versions: Level One, Level Two and Level Three.
 
Visit our online store to purchase these packs. If one of the packs contains a book you already own, don't worry -- email us at mail@toon-books.com and we will substitute the already-owned book for another one. 
 
 Three-Book Holiday Pack
 
LEVEL ONE HOLIDAY PACK: With Little Mouse Gets ReadyA Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse and Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons
 
LEVEL TWO HOLIDAY PACK: With Benny and Penny in Lights Out!, Maya Makes a Messand Luke on the Loose.
 
LEVEL THREE HOLIDAY PACK: With The Shark King, Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework and Otto's Orange Day
 
 
Five-Book Holiday Mega Pack
 
LEVEL ONE HOLIDAY MEGA PACK: With Chick & Chickie Play All Day!Jack and the BoxLittle Mouse Gets ReadyA Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse and Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons.

LEVEL TWO HOLIDAY MEGA PACK: With StinkyNina in That Makes Me Mad!Benny and Penny in Lights Out!Maya Makes a Mess and Luke on the Loose.

LEVEL THREE HOLIDAY MEGA PACK: With Mo and Jo Fighting Together ForeverThe Shark KingZig and Wikki in Something Ate My HomeworkZig and Wikki                                                                             in the Cow and Otto's Orange Day.

 
 

I wanted to convey how strange and otherworldly the Antarctic landscape seemed – especially under moonlight. The close encounter I had with a whale made it clear to me that they are intelligent, friendly, curious and gentle. I wanted that to come through.”

frank viva antarctica toon books

Whales, penguins, palatial ice floes and more frequent the pages of Frank Viva’s A Trip to the Bottom of the World, the story of an inquisitive little mouse on a visit to the snow-bound wonderland of Antarctica. It’s no surprise that Viva’s own trip to Antarctica helped inspire and inform his book, considering how fantastical the real-life continent appears. We caught up with Viva to discuss how he turned his trip into a book, his recent event at Little Island in Toronto, his favorite comics artists and more.

Q. How did the Little Island event go?

A. Little Island was great. The hosts were very nice and there was a good mix of kids and adults. During the reading, it was evident that one little boy – about three years old – had the book memorized. He would shout out what was about to happen in the story – it was very cute. After the reading, we had a Q&A that prompted an adult discussion about climate change and the melting polar ice caps.

Q. Let’s talk about your trip to Antarctica – at what point did you know you wanted to write A Trip to the Bottom of the World? What were the things you saw there that you most wanted to include? What do you hope kids will learn from it?

A. Françoise had the idea of basing the book on my trip to Antarctica. She said that my face lit up when I talked about it. More than any one thing, I wanted to convey how strange and otherworldly the Antarctic landscape seemed – especially under moonlight. The close encounter I had with a whale made it clear to me that they are intelligent, friendly, curious and gentle. I wanted that to come through, too.

Q. How would you describe your working process?

A. When it comes to the creative process, I finalize the manuscript before thinking about the pictures. Then I work out a rough pagination and make little folding dummies. These help me to understand the math – comics and picture books have to fit into a predetermined number of pages based on the size of the printing press. My pencil roughs on these dummies tend to be very rudimentary, but they assist me as I work through pacing issues and basic stage blocking (not the look of the final illustrations). Then I go directly to finals. Along the way, I may need to do more detailed sketches for certain images if I can’t figure things out in my head.

Q. Where do you get your ideas for new books?

A. Like A Trip to the Bottom of the World, they can come out of an actual experience. They can also come out of a collaboration with a trusted editor or – seemingly – out of the blue. At any given time, I have about ten ideas for books that I keep alive in one way or another – some for years. Most will never get made, but some might – probably in a form that I couldn’t have imagined. I recently sold a book that I began work on in early 2007. It needed to gestate for that long because I didn’t have the wherewithal to pull it off back then.

Q. What artists (of any genre) have been a great influence to you? Which contemporary artists do you admire? Are there any you’d love to work with?

A. Bill Traylor, Martín Ramírez, Alexander Calder, Alice Neel, Ben Shahn, Eva Hesse, Robert Rauschenberg, Lester Beall, E. McKnight Kauffer, James Flora, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Seth and many others have influenced me over the years. Chris Ware’s latest book is spectacular. For those still with us, I wouldn’t mind working with them – or even just hanging out.

Q. Did you read a lot of comics as a kid? Any in particular?

A. Yes, I read and collected Marvel Comics, then moved to underground comics (Zap and the rest). In public school, two friends and I made comic books using a Ditto machine. We’d make enough copies (with used transfer sheets donated by our teacher Ms. Able) to give one book to every class in the school. Separately, I created a superhero called The Quill. I made about four issues with a black BIC ballpoint pen and pencil crayons – the paper was folded down to 5.5″ x 8.5″ from 11″ x 17″ sheets. Flipping through one of them recently (in my parents’ basement), I found a page where The Quill’s alter ego bursts through the door and into his home holding a bouquet flowers – and with a big smile, informs his wife that they’re going to have a baby. I guess I didn’t understand how things worked.

Q. What appeals to you about the comic form? What are the things you can do there that you can’t do elsewhere?

A. I think there are some things that pictures can do better than words and some things that words can do better than pictures. Comics, picture books, film and stage use both to tell stories. The panels and word balloons used in comics help to make the narrative engaging and easy to follow.

Q. Have you ever gotten anything interesting from a fan? What’s the compliment on your work or review or award that has meant the most to you?

A. I love it when parents tell me that their kids ask them to read one of my books over and over again – that’s the best.

 
 

shakespeare comic common core

As students continue to grumble over their homework each night, teachers across America are becoming more and more familiar with the words “Common Core.” Since their release in 2010, these state-based standards for education have been adopted by 46 states, which plan to have at least 85% of their school curricula based on Common Core standards by 2015.

While it’s not totally clear yet what effects these shifts will have for students and teachers, the goal of the standards for English and Language Arts (ELA) is to prepare students are literate enough to attend college or pursue a career by the time they graduate from high school. The components of this literacy are divided into the following categories: reading, writing, speaking, listening, language and media and technology.

My own middle school and high school English education focused primarily on reading age-appropriate classics. That included a different Shakespeare play each year, Dickens to Dostoevsky, and American classics like The Great Gatbsy and The Scarlet Letter. These great books provided more than just text to study and language to analyze. While some of these books proved to be more tedious than enthralling, there were many more books that fell into the latter category. Good writing is good writing whether the material it contains is based in reality or in imagination, but the addictive thrill of a wonderful plot, loveable characters and lyrical prose are inimitable.

So it was with some trepidation that I read a recent Washington Post article called “Common Core Sparks War Over Words.” According to the article, the new Common Core Standards significantly increase the proportion of non-fiction text read in schools, so that by 12th grade nonfiction texts will be 70 percent of reading assignments. In elementary school, it will be 50 percent. The worry addressed here is that students have not been prepared adequately to deal with more complex non-fiction texts like studies and reports.

While English teachers have not been too pleased about the changes, authors of the standards argue that schools have misunderstood the guidelines, which refer to text in all classes, not only in English classes. Shakespeare and classic American literature are meant to be a part of the English curriculum, but, as the Post points out, this information is located in a footnote on one of the 66 pages of the standards guide. And, according to teachers, English classes must make up the majority of reading assignments completed in school.

A suggested reading list under these standards would include historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, along with more technical material like ”Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences.”

While it is, perhaps, true that most careers require workers to read, write and process primarily non-fictional texts, it does seem that replacing novels and poetry with more “difficult” non-fiction could have unintended consequences. It’s more likely that a student reading F. Scott Fitzgerald will be awakened to the pleasures of reading than a student reading about electronic stability control — but of course, the burden will ultimately fall on teachers to select texts that will be interesting to students, regardless of its content.

Rather than have English classes take up slack for meeting Common Core standards, a greater change in the way that all classes (science, math, history and more) integrate reading into their syllabi seems to be the more long-term goal. Reading scientific reports and published articles in Science classes, historical and primary documents in Social Studies classes, and reading literature in English classes seems like a logical route.

TOON is very interested in watching what happens with these Common Core Standards as they are implemented . For a some of our books (and at some point in the near future, for all of our books) we’ve written guidelines for conforming to the Common Core so that teachers can more easily use TOON’s books in the classroom, even with the new curricula.

 
 

As we count down to the end of 2012 (and perhaps, the end of the world by some accounts), we’d love to take a moment to look ahead to some of our exciting new releases in the first half of 2012.

Barry’s Best Buddy by Renee French

barry's best buddy renee french toon books

In this charming and whimsically illustrated tale, Barry and his friend Polarhog go for a long walk together, though it isn’t till the end of the story that you learn what’s really going on. Renee French’s style has been called “masterful and inimitable” and her graphic novel, “The Ticking,” was nominated for an Eisner Award in 2007.

barry's best buddy renee french toon books

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas by Philippe Coudray

benjamin bear bright ideas philippe coudray

Benjamin Bear is back! The furry and fearless hero from Fuzzy Thinking faces a whole new spread of challenges in Coudray’s latest installment. With sophisticated but simple humor, Coudray’s collection of one-page strips will have you laughing at Benjamin’s adorable antics. Horn Book called the first Benjamin Bear book “original, deep-down funny…steeped in the rare quality of imaginative kindness.” In his native France, Coudray’s work was chosen by elementary students for the Prix des Ecoles d’Angouleme.

benjamin bear fuzzy thinking philippe coudray toon books

"High Wire"

Barry’s Best Buddy and the new Benjamin Bear will both be released in hardcover in March (just in time for TOON’s fifth year anniversary).

Alongside these brand-new books, we’ll also be releasing six of our old favorites in paperback: Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor recipient Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith, Benny and Penny in Just Pretend and Benny and Penny in the Toy-Breaker by Geoffrey Hayes, Chick & Chickie Play All Day by Claude Ponti, Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking by Philippe Coudray, and Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl.

toon books paperbacks spring 2013

Our lineup of paperbacks for Spring 2013

The paperbacks are set to come out in February, at a price of $4.99 and will feature TOON Into Reading! guides in each book. If you know any children that have never read a TOON book before, these friendly paperbacks will be sure to get them reading (and loving it).