The Read-Aloud Corner

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The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

October 24, 2017 in #calvin-and-hobbes #bill-watterson #comics | Comments

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes
Author/Illustrator: Bill Watterson
This Edition Published in 2002
256 Pages

Book Summary

Calvin and Hobbes is a beloved newspaper comic strip drawn and authored by Bill Watterson. It follows a perennially-six-years-old boy named Calvin and his anthropomorphic tiger Hobbes, and the adventures the two find themselves on. Said adventures include mishaps with Calvin's mom and dad (who are never named), endlessly teasing the annoying (but kinda cute) neighbor Susie Derkins, attempting to weasel out of homework given by Calvin's ancient teacher Mrs. Wormwood, and repeated attempts to outsmart the "evil" babysitter Rosalyn.

The strip is incredibly, timelessly funny, relying on human foibles and a six-year-old's impression of them for much of the humor. A particularly funny strip shows Calvin's mom chasing Calvin around the house, tickling him, only for the last panel to show Calvin explaining to his dad why his mom is asleep on the floor.

"Her plan backfired, Dad. I'm all wound up, and Mom needs to be put to bed."

Calvin has a hyperactive imagination, and frequently imagines himself as various personas, including daring space explorer Spaceman Spiff and legendary superhero Stupendous Man. These flights of fancy are drawn with incredible skill by Watterson, bringing them to life in a way that typical novels cannot.

The humor and heart that Calvin and Hobbes is known for is on full display in this treasury, and kids of all ages can enjoy a wonderful introduction to comics by reading this book.

Our Experience

This book holds a unique place in the Read-Aloud Corner. Because it's a collection of comic strips, and doesn't tell an ongoing story, I could read it to some of the kids and not the others and not be worried about them missing something. There were some nights when one or more kids wouldn't be able to read (fell asleep early, spending the night at Grandpa's house, etc.) but the others would want to, and so I would pull out The Essential Calvin and Hobbes to read for those nights.

Let's be clear about something up front: though the subject of this comic is a child, much of the humor was written for adults, and specifically adults in this time period (1985-1995 was the original run in newspapers). There's quite a few jokes about polls, or then-current politics, or other slighty-topical events that will go straight over the head of kids today. This is where the comic format let me do something I don't normally do: I just skipped those strips! Any strip which contained something that either a) wouldn't be funny to 7 and 5 year olds or b) dealt with more risque humor (several strips see Calvin attempting to order adult-oriented home videos, with increasingly-ridiculous titles) I would just skip over, and eventually the kids came to know that that was OK for this kind of book.

Content Warnings

As I already mentioned, many Calvin and Hobbes strips contain humor that today's kids probably won't get, at least without help from their parents. On the other hand, there's no swearing, no real peril, some sad stories, but nothing that couldn't be handled by kids of all ages. However....

I'll be up front about this. Calvin is a brat. My kids are Calvin's age, and I was concerned about them seeing what Calvin does and concluding that that behavior was accepted. So, one of the first things I told them was this: "Calvin is often a good example of what not to do."

By doing this and reminding them of it while reading these books, I have intentionally changed the humor of this strip for them from laughing with Calvin (which is what Watterson wants adults to do) to laughing at Calvin. B and A in particular now recognize when Calvin is about to do something that he should not do, because it will get him in trouble or worse. This is mostly so they (and in particular K, the youngest) don't get any bright ideas that what Calvin does is acceptable. When they are older and re-read these comics, I hope they will come to understand the humor at a deeper level.

In short, there's no surface content that parents need to be mindful of. However, depending on the maturity level of your kiddos, you may want to do what we did and hold Calvin up as an example of what not to do.

What the Kids Thought (SPOILERS)

"I've been seeing this book on your (Daddy's) shelf for YEARS and wondering why a tiger was tackling a little boy. I guess I know now."

"Is Hobbes real? He goes in the washer but he eats tuna sandwiches. Is any of this real?"

I am now concerned that Calvin and Hobbes has given A an existential crisis.


K is not a big fan of these comics. Most of the jokes go over her little head. She has fallen asleep while we read several times. But when we finished the book, she did say the following:

"I think that Calvin says too many big words."

He does, that's true. So she did get something out of it. I think....


The Essential Calvin and Hobbes is collection of hilarious newspaper comic strips starring six-year-old motormouth Calvin, his anthropomorphic and snarky tiger Hobbes, and a rotating cast of characters. This book is the first of the Calvin and Hobbes treasuries, and while we did end up skipping quite a few of strips (due to the humor either not being funny to my kids or not being appropriate for them), we read most of the book just fine. Give it a look, even if you don't end up reading to your kids, because I'll be most of the humor and heart in this timeless comic will become readily apparent to any parent.

And yes, I love puns.

Recommended Age: 7 and up

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