Any adult who reads a handful of Bill Watterson’s ingenious “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strips will realize that Calvin is no sane parent’s idea of a role model. But, I couldn’t wait to introduce my son to him. Here’s why:
Raising a reader requires making reading fun. Books have lots of competition. Video games, television, sports, chores and lessons all vie for a piece of a child’s day. How they spend those hours matters. The U.S. Department of Education says studies have found that test scores go up a half a point for every hour of weekly reading; they go down a tenth of a point for every hour of weekly television. If you want your child to read, you have to find books with stories and characters that can lure them in.
With artwork the draws the reader in, characters virtually anyone can relate to and a delightfully unpredictable array of vivid storylines, Calvin and Hobbes is pure fun that is always good for a quick laugh. My son devoured the books of strips, enjoying it so much that he often raced out to share his latest favorite with me.
According to Reading is Fundamental, fourth graders who reported reading for fun the most outscored their peers who didn’t read for enjoyment by three percent on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests. That’s because reading for fun builds important skills in areas like vocabulary and context cues.
Calvin may be six-years-old, but it doesn’t limit his vocabulary. How often will kids encounter words like velocity, granules, monochromatic, arbitrarily and visceral? In “Calvin and Hobbes,” they’ll see them a lot. My son’s dictionary skills improved as he made his way through the strips because the stories and images made him want to know what those words meant. Plus, his ability to use context clues to decipher what was happening got a real workout. With comic strips having such limited space, everything in them matters, especially in a strip prone to sarcasm. Unwilling to miss a single laugh, my son quickly learned to pay attention to all the details that made up the big picture.
Learning to see someone else’s perspective is a life skill that promotes understanding and tolerance. It also helps with crafting persuasive arguments; convincing someone that you’re idea is right is a whole lot harder if you don’t understand how they think.
While most of the strips are from the title character’s viewpoint, his parents, peers and even his teacher also get their moments. Seeing how Calvin’s behavior affects those around him helps kids understand how their choices matter. More than once, I got an apology or a thank you after my son had spent some time curled up with his comic book.
With the treadmill of modern life always pushing people to get more done faster, it’s easy to lose track of the value of creativity. But imagination and the ability to think for yourself are vital to problem solving and discovery.
“Calvin and Hobbes” is truly a celebration of imagination. It invites the reader to share Calvin’s many daydreams and to see beyond what is expected to what could be. Isn’t the wonder of possibility something every parent wants for their child?
Before introducing “Calvin and Hobbes,” make sure your child is ready. You might prefer to wait until your child is in school with good study habits established to ensure Calvin’s disdain for formal education doesn’t cause issues. Likewise, don’t hand over the books until you’re sure your child has the judgment to not try out some of Calvin’s riskier stunts. If you’re concerned, why not read the strips together? That way, you’ll be on hand to answer questions, discuss issues your child doesn’t understand and curb any wild impulses. Plus, your child will get the benefits of both this mind-stretching comic and time with you.