by Leigh Stein

We recently interviewed Hannah Manshel, the children’s book buyer at 57th Street Books in Chicago, about Benjamin Bear (and other literary loves)!


Don’t they make a pretty display?

How did you first hear about TOON Books?

I first heard about TOON Books when I started buying children’s books for 57th Street Books. We used to have a few of them and keep them in our graphic novel section, but they really got my attention when Candlewick started distributing them last year, and my publisher representative told me that Francoise specifically requested that they be shelved with other beginning reader books, in order to really emphasize their learn-to-read function.

You said you’re a huge Benjamin Bear fan…what drew you to this book in particular?

I completely fell in love with the Benjamin Bear’s absurd humor, I still crack up at pretty much every page. The gags of his semi-logic are so instantaneous and satisfying! I tend to read longer form, narrative, un-funny comics, so Benjamin Bear provides some welcome variation. Plus, I’ve recommended this book to six-year-olds and Heidegger scholars and have received equally positive responses.

What would make you recommend a comic book like ours to a parent of a young reader?

TOON books are awesome for beginning readers, because the pictures are so vivid and descriptive and are as central to the story as the words. Early reader books tend to be very monotonous for parents, because their structure requires extremely simple stories with lots of repeated words. TOON books take a different approach, and because they’re more vibrant and dynamic than so much else that’s out there, parents are actually excited to read them with their kids. Also, even reluctant readers who may be intimidated by even an early chapter book are likely to pick up a comic book and get sucked in!

What’s your favorite part about being a bookseller?

I love really being a part of the neighborhood community and getting to know people by talking to them about books. Parents will actually stop me at the grocery store and tell me how much their kids loved the books I recommended to them — it’s so gratifying to be able to share books in such an active way. My other favorite thing is being aware of pretty much every book coming out from major presses (and some small ones!) in any given season and being able read widely and to have a sense of what’s generally going on in the literary landscape. It’s great feeling like an ambassador of the book world!

What’s the most recent book you read and loved?

The book that I’ve been evangelizing for all year is Lidia Yuknavitch’s brilliant memoir The Chronology of Water. It completely explodes the genre of the grief/addiction/abuse memoir, eradicates all the cliches, and is this stunning floating experimental piece takes the metaphor of swimming (Yuknavitch was a competitive, nearly Olympic swimmer) to basically invent a new language and form for this genre. It’s ecstatic and moving and it’s about being and becoming a writer and if you haven’t read it yet it will completely blow your mind.

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