TOON Books Storia Teaching Guide
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
TOON Books feature original stories created by veteran children’s book authors, renowned cartoonists, and new talents—all combining to create high-quality comics designed for emerging readers.
Level One books are first comics for brand new readers. The books feature just one main character, a single time frame or theme, short sentences, and easy sight words. There are only one to two panels per page, and the text only appears in speech balloons.
Level Two books are easy-to-read comics for emerging readers. They have a story arc with a few characters in a familiar and enclosed setting. The books feature one to four panels per page and include speech balloons, sound effects, and occasional caption text.
Level Three books are chapter book comics for advanced beginning readers. The books have multiple characters, shifts in time and place, and a longer story divided into chapters. Readers need to make connections and think critically to comprehend the story.
All these pedagogical underpinnings enhance the books’ main purpose: to provide young readers with the fun and rewards of reading comics.
Teaching TOON Books
Young readers love comics. They are naturally drawn to the details in the pictures, which makes them want to read the words. Even emerging readers are engaged by comics’ simple and inviting format—a strong visual narrative punctuated with speech balloons and captions. TOON Books provide rich opportunities to teach students to make inferences from illustrations, to integrate information from text and pictures, and to enjoy the enduring genre of comics. After-reading activities engage students in creative writing, reader’s theater, and storytelling.
Genre Focus: Comics
Comprehension Focus: Make Inferences
Language Focus: Comics Terms
Get Ready to Read
Cartoons and Comics
Engage students’ interest by displaying cartoon and comics characters from comic strips, books, or DVD covers. With students, make a list of their favorite cartoon and comics characters and talk about their adventures. During the discussion, draw out the difference between animated cartoons and printed comics. Explain that comics are a sequence of pictures that tell a story. Words are included in comics in the form of speech balloons and sound effects.
Preview and Predict
Display the cover and read the title from the opening pages of the TOON Book you are reading with the class. Ask students to talk about the character shown in the art. What kind of animal or person is it? What do they learn about the character from the words and the art? Ask students to predict what might happen in the book.
Introduce students to the basic terms used to describe comics features. Knowing the meaning of these terms helps students better understand how cartoonists communicate. Show students an example of each feature in the book they are reading. Not all books include all features.
Speech Balloon: When a character speaks, his or her words are shown in a speech balloon. The tail of the balloon always points to his or her mouth.
Thought Balloon: When a character thinks silently, his or her thoughts are shown in a different balloon. Instead of a tail, there is a trail of little bubbles.
Caption: A caption describes something that is happening in the story.
Sound Effect: A sound effect is a word that is drawn to show a noise.
Use Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards and distribute copies to students.
Words to Know: Comics Features
Ask students to use their copies of the vocabulary terms to write an example of each kind of comics feature. Have them go through the book they are reading and fill in examples of text in a speech balloon, a thought balloon, a caption, and a sound effect. Name each comics feature and ask volunteers to read their example of it from the book.
As You Read
Reading the Book
Read aloud the entire book, or the first chapter, depending on the reading abilities of your group. Use these tips for reading the special features of comics:
- Guide students to follow your place in the text by moving your finger under the words. Be sure not to hide a character’s important facial expressions.
- Think of the comic book story as a play, and read with expression and varied intonation. Prompt students to participate by reading a part or supplying sound effects.
- Pause before turning a page and ask students to predict what will happen next. Linger on silent panels to give students the opportunity to comprehend the information given in the pictures.
Assign partners to read the book together. Encourage them to share the reading and to discuss what is happening in the pictures.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read and answer it when they finish the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students write it in their reading journals. What do you think [the character] learns by the end of the story?
Comics tell much of a story through pictures, requiring students to make inferences about how characters feel and how they relate to each other. Explain to students that they can use clues in the pictures and text to figure out things that the author doesn’t directly tell them.
Use the graphic organizer on Resource #2: Make Inferences to model for students how to make inferences and provide supporting evidence. Project the page on a whiteboard or pass out copies to students.
I’m going to see what I can guess about the character in the first row, just by looking at the picture and reading the sound effects. I think this character’s name is Stinky, and he is angry about something. Why do I think that? Well, he’s wearing a shirt with the name Stinky on it. He’s showing his teeth like he’s angry, and he is saying, “GRR!”
Have students fill in the rest of the organizer with examples from the TOON Book they are reading. In the left column, ask them to write a page number and describe a comic frame. In the right column, ask them to make an inference based on the drawing and text. Remind them to give evidence for their inference.
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus elements.
1. Genre: Comics
Does the character in the book act the way a real animal [or kid] would? How do the animals behave like humans? [How do the kids behave differently than real kids?]
2. Make Inferences
Choose one of the illustrations in the book and make an inference about how the character is feeling. Use evidence from the art and the text.
3. Comics Features
How does the shape of a speech balloon or the size of a sound effect help you know how a character is saying the words? What is one of your favorite sound effects in the book?
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
1. Text to Self
If you were a cartoonist, what kind of character would you want to draw? What name would you give the character?
2. Text to World
What real person do you think is like a larger-than-life comics superhero? Explain why.
3. Text to Text
Think about the cartoon or comics characters you have seen on TV, in movies, in newspapers, or in comic books. Which character reminds you of [the character you read about]?
Content Area Connections
Frame Numbers and Sizes
Have students study how the artist broke pages into different numbers and sizes of frames to tell the story. Depending on students’ skills, ask them to count the number of frames; to describe how a page is divided into halves, thirds, etc.; or to analyze how the size of a frame, including dramatic fill pages, helps pace the story.
Because the TOON Books are mostly dialogue, they lend themselves to readers’ theater. Depending on the number of characters in the book, pair or group students to perform a readers’ theater version of the story. Help students “read” the cues in the art and text to give their performance expression. They should look at the characters’ facial expressions as well as the shape and size of speech balloons, text, and sound effects. Encourage repeated readings to build fluency—including tone, pitch, and volume. Check out this site http://www.toon-books.com/theater.php.
Challenge students to draw their own or copy the main character in the book they are reading. Remind them that comics can be drawn with either simple lines or with more complex details. Students can copy one of the frames in the book or draw the character in a new situation. Ask students to use a specific facial expression in the drawing and then ask a partner how the character is feeling.
Retelling the Story
Comics provide a perfect opportunity for students to retell the story in a narrative form. Depending on their abilities, have students either write a narrative about what happens in the book, or tell the story orally. Younger readers will enjoy a round-robin retelling; older readers can work with partners to retell a longer book. Either model or give students the following tips for their retellings:
- Use details in the drawings to describe the character, the setting, and the action.
- Add information in speech and thought balloons as dialogue.
- Use transition words like first, then, next, and finally to connect the story parts.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Tell them there is more than one right answer. What do you think [the character] learns by the end of the story?
Create Your Own Comic
Ask students to create their own three-frame comic. Tell them to choose a situation or adventure that happened to them. In the first frame, ask students to show the problem they faced. In the second frame, they can show the actions they took. In the third frame, they can show the solution or resolution to the problem. Make copies of the printable, Big Activity: Create Your Own Comic and distribute to students. Suggest to students that they experiment with drawing a cartoon of themselves first. Remind them to leave enough room in each frame for a speech bubble, caption, or sound effect.
Students can also use this link to create their comic using the TOON Books cartoon making site. Students log in and then follow the prompts to create a digital comic.
About the TOON Books Team
Françoise Mouly launched TOON Books in 2008 and has been its editorial director since that time. Born in France, Mouly moved to New York in 1974, where she currently lives with her husband Art Spiegelman. Mouly joined The New Yorker as art editor in l993.
Cartoonist Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize in l992 for his Holocaust narrative, Maus. Together with Mouly, he created RAW, the acclaimed comics magazine; Little Lit, a series of comics anthologies for children; and the TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics.
Together, Mouly and Spiegelman have transformed American comics and are applying their extraordinary skills to welcome young children to the magic of reading.
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