Little Island Comics is - as far as we can tell - the world's only comic book shop just for kids. We're a spin-off of our parent shop, The Beguiling, which has been around for 27 years, and we're located in sunny Toronto, Canada. We opened up a kids comics store for a few reasons. First, there has been a huge boom in kids comics publishing in the last 10 years. TOON Books is of course a part of this, as are great imprints like Graphix (Scholastic), Flying Eye (Nobrow) and Enfant (Drawn & Quarterly). 20 years ago children's graphic novels were few and far between; now, thanks to publishers like these, there's enough to fill a whole store!
When a store-front became available around the corner from The Beguiling in 2011, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give all these great comics the showcase they needed. I think that some parents are reluctant to shop with their kids in more traditional comic book shops - some of the adult titles stocked there can be very adult. And general book shops have so many kids books to feature, comics are rarely (if ever) the focus. So we fill an important niche as a kid-friendly place that carries every kids comic that's out there!
We stock every kind of book that could be considered "comics for kids," so that includes superhero comics, graphic novels, and manga, single-issues and books, as well as non-fiction comics, comic strip collections, and even some how-to-make-comics books. We also have a huge selection of French-language comics for kids. For the younger kids, we have a selection of board books and picture books, which actually complement the graphic novel selection quite well. Shortly after we opened we expanded our retail footprint a bit in order to accommodate a selection of comics for teens as well.
As a kid-focused comic book shop, we've been able to host some great events and programs over the past few years. We run regular classes on making comics and manga, and we've also had some awesome book launches and author signings with creators like Tomi Ungerer (The Three Robbers), Dan Parent (Kevin Keller), Anouk Ricard (Anna et Froga) and even TOON Books' own Frank Viva (A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse)!
Do you have a favorite TOON Book, and why?
It's hard to choose, but I'd have to say my favourite is Barry's Best Buddy by Renée French. I love how silly it is, and how the character designs and the dialogue are perfectly in sync, creating really clear characters in such a short work. It's also a great example of something that TOON Books are really good at: straddling the line between independent read and sharable storybook. It's at the right level for someone who's still sounding out words, but - as my customers and colleagues will tell you - it also reads aloud really well. And you get to do voices! At this point I've read Barry's Best Buddy aloud at least several dozen times in the store.
I can also tell you that we've gained new customers because we carry all the TOON Books. We've had people who have never been in the store tweet at us asking if we have any TOON Books, who head right in once they learn that this is the place to get them all.
TOON Books work as both leveled readers AND as read alouds for toddlers. But we confess that sometimes this leads to confusion because a parent may not think to buy a "leveled reader” (which are notoriously boring!) as a read aloud book. How do you make this distinction to parents? Any advice for other bookstores and librarians in this regard?
The boundary between picture book and comic book has always been blurry, and in fact, though we're a comic book shop, at Little Island we actually have quite a robust, curated selection of picture books on our shelves to complement the graphic novels. Our TOON Books display is physically between our picture books and our graphic novels, which helps our customers see how they fit into both of these realms. Looking along that side of our store from left to right, the books age up: Board Books, then Picture Books, then TOON Books, then full-length graphic novels.
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