Tom Spurgeon conducted a lengthy interview with TOON Books Editorial Director Françoise Mouly for his website The Comics Reporter. Over the course of the conversation, Mouly discusses at length the origins and objectives of TOON Books. Among other topics, Mouly describes her experiences reading the books-in-progress with groups of children to illustrate the usefulness of comics in developing literacy:
One little boy this week interrupted the reading in the middle and said, “Can I say something? I noticed something about all of these books. They all have the speech bubbles in them. That is all what people are saying. That’s really good, because I am interested in what people are saying. The books that they give us, there’s a little bit of text over here and a little bit of text over there, but these books, it’s all about what people are saying.” This is like, “Wow, I’m going to hire you as my literary critic here.” [laughter]
They clearly respond to it. They think of it as something for them. Many, many, many kids grow up without any print around. There are no books, there’s no magazines, there’s no comic books at home. At school they’re told they have to learn to read or they’re an idiot. The books that are put in front of them are on two sides of a divide. These are the picture books and these are for babies… they are supposed to grow out of this. They are supposed to learn to read god knows how and then get to the point where they can read without pictures. They’re to get beyond needing pictures. A couple of the kids look at our books and say, “These are chapter books?” And I say yes. That’s one of the things I picked up from talking to the teachers. That the process is for the child to become so literate that he actually doesn’t need the pictures anymore and he can read a chapter book. By definition, they’re not illustrated. At that point you can drop the pictures because the kid is literate enough. And for the child, in a way that’s such a loss. Because it’s something they do like, and it’s easy and natural for them.