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Smart Art

Spiegelman doesn’t dumb down for kids.


Children learn to read in all sorts of ways, and Art Spiegelman sees a distinct line from comic books to literacy. The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the graphic memoir Maus is also a New York dad of two in a bookish family; his wife, Françoise Mouly, founded Toon Books, an imprint aimed at emerging readers. On November 22, Spiegelman will attend Books of Wonder’s Rollicking Picture Book Day event to read from his newest kids “comic,” Jack and the Box. Spiegelman learned from his kids as he and Mouly worked together to create the Toon Books series: “It’s a classy version of easy readers. When kids are 4 to 6, this reading thing happens. You have to crack the code and the system. Until my kids got it, they didn’t get it. And then you’re like, Oh, I see! They just get it.” But the cartoonist has sharp words for the book industry. “The books that are provided when that light goes on really suck. It starts with the medicine version in school—See Dick run. Oh Dick. Oh run. Then there are these books that are sold like coal—they’re four bucks apiece and sold as the lowest-denominator retellings of Cinderella with images. It’s witless. Comics are better than easy readers.” Spiegelman offers an antidote to these books in Jack’s story of mastering his imagination vis-à-vis a new toy. Jack, by the way, is no typical hero. His tale is a little ominous. “I guess I don’t subscribe to the twee school. I remember trying to lose our copy of Thomas the Tank Engine before I had to read it again. Life is a more dimensional and interesting affair than vestigially Victorian notions of childhood. I was trying to make something substantial, something to be read and reread.” It worked.

11/22, noon to 2 p.m. Books of Wonder, 18 W. 18th St., nr. Sixth Ave. (212-989-3270 or; free.


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