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Françoise Mouly – Bringing Comic Books to Classrooms

comics in the classroomWith a few exceptions, children – especially small children – are not very fond of reading. Their attention span is too short to perceive and comprehend large amounts of text; and, to make matters worse, we live in an age when there are all too many distracting things surrounding us from our earliest years: television, mobile phones, tablet PCs, Internet, video games… They are not bad. They simply make it really, really hard to teach a child that reading may be fascinating and rewarding.

Françoise Mouly, founder of an independent publishing house Junior Raw, thinks that her new project, Toon Graphics, may well be the solution to this problem. The whole idea is not new – back in 2008 Ms. Mouly started Toon Books, providing comics for the children as young as 3; but Toon Graphics takes the concept a bit further, creating a new series of comic books for older children (fourth grade and up).

Toon Graphics is aimed at developing the culture of reading in young children; according to Ms. Mouly’s opinion, by accustoming kids to reading in the forms they already enjoy one can make better readers of them when they grow up. Instead of trying to make them like what they are supposed to like, Toon Graphics offers them stories that are interesting and easily understandable for them at that age.

Some of them are old and well-known, like Theseus and Minotaur or Hansel and Gretel, others are original, like Cast Away on the Letter A. But all of them have one thing in common – they resonate with their readers, they touch upon things they are interested in.

Theseus and Minotaur, instead of being perceived as a boring old myth, is told as a fascinating story about horrible monsters, heroes with superhuman powers and spectacular battles. Maybe it doesn’t convey all the symbolism of the original, but it makes children want to read the next page, and the next, and the next. As kids get used to reading, they will be more likely to get interested in something more serious.

One doesn’t have to teach children how to look at cartoons, Ms. Mouly says, it is something that comes naturally to them. So why not mix business with pleasure and let children have fun while engraining love for reading into them? After all, this approached worked for Ms. Mouly herself – she remembers reading massive amounts of comics back in the days of her childhood, and states that it was exactly the acquaintance with this medium that led her to becoming an avid reader.

Teachers who included reading the aforementioned Theseus and Minotaur into the schedules of their students agree with it: children immediately take to the tale when it is told in the manner they are ready to perceive. Although this initiative has only just started, Ms. Mouly managed to find some really notable collaborators, one of them being the popular writer Neil Gaiman, who wrote the literary part of Hansel and Gretel for the series.

It appears that this new project has big future.

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