I was visiting my parents' house this summer which is always bound to stir up childhood memories, but I got a special burst of elated nostalgia when my 7-year-old son came to me with a comic book of mine he found at their house entitled, Revenge of the Babysat. Now, anyone who really knows the comic I'm going to talk about will immediately know who I'm talking about, and hopefully, it will bring about a huge smile for them too. I'm talking about the namesakes of that famous theologian who gave us Reformed Protestantism (touting Predestination), and the political philosopher who gave us social contract theory--yes, I'm talking about none other than Calvin and Hobbes.
Ah, Calvin and Hobbes...Warm feeling washing over me...
I don't remember how old I was when I started reading this comic (I was certainly older than 7--the series ran from 1985-1995), but it always held a special part in my heart and creative mind. There were only 2 comics that I ever really followed--the absurdism caught my attention of Gary Larson's The Far Side, which I enjoyed, but there was nothing like the stories of Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin, who gave us a plethora of dichotomies which is what human nature is composed of--He was charming but gross, selfish but caring, ridiculously smart but gullible, crazy daring but sometimes scared, philosophical but impulsive--and he was really really funny. Calvin was perfectly polarized by his wise but also mischievous best friend, Hobbes, the ideal older brother/teacher/friend/protector who had a soft spot for the ladies. The writing and illustrations of Bill Watterson were sharp, smart, funny, and poignant. The series went out on a high note (similar to the Seinfeld departure--although Watterson did it first) and kudos to Watterson for making all his brilliant choices that gave us the forever-idealized duo.
And oh, this duo was so much fun to read about! I would tear through the compilation books when we received them, and, like my 7-year-old, I have the sensory feeling of being hot in the summer, reading in my bedroom (now the room he shares with my other son when we visit), and immersing myself entirely in this world of a 6-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger.
So when my little guy started reading Revenge of the Babysat this summer, I was thrilled. We borrowed 3 other anthologies of the series from the library and he tore through them with any free time he had. We've had to call him about 4 more times to get in the shower at night (or to do anything for that matter!) once he started reading Calvin and Hobbes. This was the book he'd read to his grandmother at night during their reading time. He reads the strips to his 4-year-old brother on the living room floor before breakfast. On walks, at the playground, on a boat, in the car, he brings up moments from the books and updates me on Calvin's journey ("Calvin's duplicate is exactly like him but he's about a quarter inch shorter." "I read the part where he's waiting for the beanie, like you told me about!" "Hobbes won't even eat the sugary cereal Calvin likes!" "This book must come after the other one because Calvin talks about how he flushed the babysitter's homework in the toilet." "Calvin's mom wasn't even mad after he drove the car in a ditch."). My son has also been a philosopher himself since he was able to speak, wondering how we could tell if we're in a dream or not when he was 2 to musing on why we get up every day when he was 3 years old (and now his 4-year-old brother recently asked how we know "Daddy is real and not just a projection"), so I suspect the philosophical passages bear some weight with my son too. He also recounts sweet moments, "Aww...Mom, look! Calvin doesn't have any present for Hobbes for Christmas, but Hobbes doesn't either, so Hobbes gives him a hug and Calvin says, 'Not so hard, you big sissy, you squeeze my tears out.' Aw! What does 'big sissy' mean?" Or "look--Calvin's dad decides to play outside with him even though he has all this work to do! Aw!" My son gets it--Calvin gets in trouble sometimes, but ultimately, he loves the people he loves, and they love him too.
Of course, there are many new words my little reader has learned, including "transmogrifier" and "duplicate," and lots of questions that come after reading passages (bullies, excluding girls from clubs, getting robbed). He opens the discussion very often about whether Hobbes is really coming to life when others are not around or if it's just Calvin's imagination (although my son has found proof of when Hobbes moved on his own, so he knows that Hobbes is, indeed, real in the comic story. And now my worried 4-year-old has been asking for the past few days if his Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtle eraser is going to come to life!).
But perhaps one of the things I love most about my son's reading this fantastic comic--and here I'll relate this to the whole drama-thing my website is about--is how this comic is so well-written that even my 7-year-old child recites passages with perfect intonation of each character, getting the excitement of Calvin one moment right next to the low sarcastic voice of a parent the next. I'm actually pretty impressed by how he gets it. I mean, he knows how to read it with all the theatrics that the writer intended which is what makes the punchline half the time. My son also recites long passages from the books, exercising his memory (today, after making his bed, he was reminded of a Mother's Day card Calvin wrote for his mom, so he recited 3 stanzas in perfect rhyme--boiling down to Calvin hinting at a larger allowance and needing breakfast made for him). There are always different ways to read passages, but Watterson (who bears a...um...resemblance to the appearance of Dad in the series?) really has crafted the story so well that even a child can make the humor land. And my son can practice his acting chops, while developing reading skills, while learning new vocabulary, while sharing an interest with his mom, while enjoying the really really fun and poignant world of Calvin and Hobbes.
What could be better summer reading than that?