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Françoise Mouly: Pioneering the Use of Comics for Classroom Literacy

Françoise Mouly: Pioneering the Use of Comics for Classroom Literacy

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Hi folks! This is your favorite interplanetary journalist, Spiffy, and I am back for a new year full of inspirational interviews with some of the world’s best and brightest entrepreneurs and changemakers. I hope you’re ready! Today, I’m speaking with a very special guest—Françoise Mouly, the editorial director of TOON Books.

Spiffy: It’s great to have you here today, Françoise. Welcome to the blog! What motivated you to start TOON Books, and what challenge are you addressing through the company?

Françoise: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Long before I founded TOON, I worked on RAW magazine, a graphics magazine that declared “comics aren’t just for kids anymore!”, and while it definitely helped bring comics into universities, museums, bookstores and libraries for adults, I felt kids got left behind in that process. I founded RAW Junior in 1998, to make the kinds of books—and comics—that I wanted to read with my young children.

Spiffy: Why did you choose the medium of comic books and graphic novels for promoting classroom literacy?

Françoise: Comics have a unique ability to draw young readers into a story through the visual narrative. They guide a reader through the page from left to right and top to bottom, establishing key skills—like decoding or making inferences—that are the foundation of literacy. Because comics drawings are diagrams that kids understand innately, the early-reader comics we publish can clarify a multitude of issues that emerging readers traditionally struggle with. For example, speech balloons help children understand the written word as transcription of spoken language, while sound effects can help with Phonics and Phonological Awareness.

Spiffy: Can you elaborate on the methodology you adopt to ensure that the TOON Books releases are compatible with your target audience?

Françoise: Making sure that each book is appropriate for its reading level is very important for us. We spend a lot of time learning from educators, librarians, and parents to make sure we are meeting the needs of young readers and gatekeepers alike. Currently we have free CCSS- aligned lesson plans for each title on our website because it’s what teachers are always asking for.

Spiffy: Who are your favorite comic book artists at TOON books (and why)?

Françoise: Favorite artists is a tough one to answer. What I’m especially proud of is the range of stories and artists that we publish. If I have to pick one, I can say that one of my favorite TOON Books is Jack and the Box by Art Spiegelman (but then I’m married to the guy…) I love that it’s a great metaphor for a book as well as a great book itself.

Spiffy: I’m going to have to go and check it out after we’re done! Now, I’d love to know your take on the impact of the march of technology on comic art. How has TOON Books adapted to these changes?

Françoise: I love printing and printed books as objects—I used to have my own printing press. Printing ink is in my blood, and my goal is still to put printed books in the hands of kids, not to produce one more digital distraction. That being said, we use all the tools at our disposal to get our books out there, including, of course, all the amazing digital tools that are available.

Spiffy: Before you go, I’d love for you to share some recent or upcoming TOON Books initiatives and their impact on early readers, their parents, schoolteachers, librarians, etc. 

Françoise: We recently had one of our star authors, Liniers, on a panel at the American Library Association’s Annual conference called Art + Text: The Art of the Children’s Book. Now that comics are more widely accepted, bringing together artists and authors with educators and librarians is a big part of what we do.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Françoise—it’s been an honor!

Françoise Mouly is the founder, publisher and designer of the pioneering avant-garde comics anthology RAW, which she co-edited along with her husband, cartoonist Art Spiegelman, from 1980 to 1992. Ms. Mouly joined The New Yorker as art editor in 1993. She has been responsible for over 1,400 covers, many of which were named cover of the year. She launched TOON Books, her own imprint of comics for emerging readers in 2008, and TOON Graphics in 2014. The TOON books have received universal praise and multiple awards for their innovative approach. (First published on the Ladderworks website on January 3, 2023.)

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.