There's a magical series in the world of children's books. I've seen kids who hate to read devour these books. The copies at my library keep falling apart and we can never keep the books on the shelf. When I worked in a bookstore, I was always tripping over kids in the aisles who had sat down to read right in front of where these books were displayed. I've watched everyone from 6 to 60 become mesmerized by them. What's the name of this incredible series that casts such a spell?
You thought I was going to say Harry Potter, didn't you? I'll save that series for another post.
Bill Watterson's comic strip about a hyper kid and his stuffed tiger ran in the newspapers for only ten years, from 1985 to 1995. It's been fourteen years since the last strip appeared and Calvin's popularity doesn't seem to have waned for a minute. It's a timeless creation that can be enjoyed by nearly every age.
What does this have to do with children's books? Reading is reading, no matter what form it takes. Popular comic strip such as Calvin and Hobbes frequently sell out in bookstores and have incredibly high circulation rates in public and school libraries. Children and teenagers ask all the time for Calvin, Zits, Foxtrot, Garfield and Peanuts. Unfortunately, at least half of the time I get a request for a comic strip book, I hear a parent tell their child that they shouldn't be wasting their time with comics, and urging the kid to pick out better books.
This pains me every time I hear it. Calvin is somebody kids can relate to. He has temper tantrums, he gets in trouble, he has a huge imagination and he doesn't always pay attention. In short, he's a typical kid. And the books are full of are full of complex words and ideas that challenge readers.
Think about a child who is struggling with reading. A chapter book full of words can be completely overwhelming but a comic strip is far less threatening and full of visual cues. Comic strips can help kids learn to read and develop a sense of humor. Reading a small number of panels to get to the punch line can give kids a sense of accomplishment. A collection can be put down and picked up at any time without interrupting the continuity. And most important, comic strips can show kids how fun reading can be.
Look at the picture below. Doesn't it make you want to read the book?
Comic strips are universal and appeal to a wide variety of people of all ages. A while back, I commuted into D.C. via the subway. Practically everybody on the train bought a copy of the Washington Post before they got onboard. And, every single day, 90% of the papers were open to the comics section.
My husband and I have completely different literary tastes. When we got married and merged our book collections, there was only one series that we both owned. Garfield.
The next time you see your child gaze longingly at Calvin and his stuffed tiger, let them give it a try, even if you think they're too young to get the jokes. Or hand a collection to a kid who's struggling and feeling unsuccessful at school. It might make a bigger difference than you think.