In School or At Home–Go Graphic!

As this new school year begins so uncertainly, with COVID-19 affecting where and how youngsters learn their official lessons, I have a new resource to recommend.  Ivan Brunetti’s Comics: Easy as ABC! The Essential Guide to Comics for Kids (2019) will delight and instruct young readers regardless of location, working equally well in school or at home.  That flexibility is spotlighted in the coda to this graphic work’s subtitle: For kids, parents, teachers, and librarians!   Veteran author/illustrator Brunetti’s guide has already won the prestigious  Eisner Award for 2020’s Best Publication for Early Readers.  It was also numbered among Booklist’s Top 10 Art Books for Youth in 2019. 

Yet Comics: Easy as ABC! is not just for young artists already comfortable and confident in their abilities.  Beginning with “Doodles” and “Basic Shapes,” Brunetti assures readers that “There is no one right way to draw—the fun is finding your own way of drawing.”  Fun is a key element in this book.  Its illustrations are playful, and its comments wryly funny.  Bits of advice come not just from Brunetti but from a host of other successful comics creators: these include Roz Chast, Neil Gaiman, Kevin McClosky, Jeff Smith, James Sturm, and Chris Ware.   Sometimes they good-naturedly poke fun at themselves and each other.  I particularly enjoyed Chris Ware’s “Pro-tip #66: Get a PILLOW!” with its illustration showing a big-headed Ivan Brunetti at his drawing board, sitting on a tiny pillow!  Some elementary-age readers will get the joke here, while the youngest users of Guide may casually skip over it, focused more on Brunetti’s brisk directions and many opportunities for step-by-step drawing practice.

In this way, Comics: Easy as ABC! is versatile in the range of young people it informs and entertains.  K/1 grade kids will find it worthwhile, with its “show ‘n tell” sections on balloons and lettering and on pages and panels, while more skilled readers may move into more advanced sections such as “Point of View,” “Short Strips” and “Find Your Voice.”  “Comics Language”—identifying the “lines, bursts, and squiggles that indicate emotion or heat”—will help budding cartoonists according to their skills.  This combination of flexibility with specificity fits into the targeted approach publisher Toon Books takes in all its publications, with Level 1 books aimed at K/1 readers, Level 2 aimed at grades 1 and 2, Level 3 at grades 2 and 3, and Toon Graphics—the imprint of Comics: Easy as ABC!—officially targeting grades 3 to 6. 

I am generally not a fan of such targeting, as I fear it may limit youngsters’ opportunities, but the high quality of Toon Books’ verbal and visual storytelling is remarkable.  I am a fan of this publisher. (In past posts here, I have reviewed its Level 1 Birdsong and the Level 3 Written and Drawn by Henrietta, as well as the Toon Graphics Hansel and Gretel.)  I find it admirable that Toon Books is so acutely aware of stages in child development and reading, yet produces works which are rich enough to offer inflection points into other stages—in either direction.    For instance, while Brunetti at his Guide’s beginning suggests readers take hold of their pens to begin drawing, I can imagine youngsters at home or in school scrambling for well-used crayons instead. 

Adults in either setting will appreciate the Guide’s concluding pages, addressed to “Parents, Teachers, Librarians,” which demonstrate “How to Read Comics with Kids.”  Once again, although Toon Graphics books ostensibly target grades 3 to 6, this helpful section begins with advice suited to pre or emerging readers, with such illustrated suggestions as “Keep your fingertip under the character who is speaking.”  Teachers and librarians also may find the core curriculum- aligned guide to Comics: Easy as ABC! (downloadable here) helpful.  And youngsters themselves along with the adults supervising them  will appreciate the “Further Resources” as well as “Selected Bibliography” showcased on this book’s last page.   There are some free on-line resources for both younger and older kids included there.  I expect those will be of particular value for in-home learners.

As for me, I continue to be an “all-ages” consumer of graphic works.  I am looking forward to my just requested library copies of Ivan Brunetti’s Level One Toon books, Word Play (2017) and 3 x 4 (2018).  Writing this review, I realized the wealth of that publisher’s books I have yet to explore.  One new work in its Graphics imprint debuts in just a few weeks: Black Heroes of the Wild West (2020), written by James Otis Smith and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  I recognize the name of only one of the three heroes featured on its cover and am now eager to see that work, too. 


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