Sunday, November 22, 2009

Days Are Just Packed

Biblio Bits The Days Are Just Packed by Bill Watterson, Andrews and McMeel 1993 (ISBN 0836217357)

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9+, All ages

Genre Comics, Humor

Plot Summary
How to summarize the plot of a collection of comic strips? (Is there anyone left on this planet that would actually need a summary of Calvin and Hobbes?) Calvin is a boy of six (Wikipedia), who has a stuffed animal tiger, called Hobbes. When Calvin and Hobbes are alone, Hobbes is a fully animate "real" tiger who talks, but when anyone else is present, Hobbes reverts to his stuffed animal form. Calvin wages war against reality: his parents, the food they serve, bathing, his teacher, homework, normalcy, his babysitter, and most of all, Susie (his neighbor, classmate, and arch-nemesis). In this collection, frequently individual strips will build upon each other for 4-8 strips, and then be followed by a one-page, full color strip (that would have appeared in the Sunday paper).

Critical Evaluation
Watterson has masterfully captured what is universal about childhood, through Calvin's eyes, while also peppering his strips with clever cultural references built into the narrative. Quotes from Paul Gauguin, Calvin's diatribes against the marketing machine, destiny versus free will, and the homogeneity of TV culture are just a few of the gems that made it into the pages of this collection. But then there are just the straight-up funny ones. Like when Calvin sticks his nose in a jar of mustard and gets shot right out of his shoes (p.113). Or this family favorite, in which the phone rings and Calvin answers: "Hello, we are unable to come to the phone right now...So please leave a message at the sound of the click." Followed by a frame that depicts Calvin, slamming the phone down (p.76). Truly, there is something here for everyone.

Reader's Annotation
The best snow sculptures ever (more here) and the best fantasy/humor/sci-fi/adventure/philosophy/realistic fiction in one volume. Can any other volume boast the same?

Author Information
Bill Watterson was born in 1958 in Washington D.C. He spent time drawing and cartooning as a child, and cites Charles Schulz as an inspiration. Watterson graduated from Kenyon College (OH) with a degree in political science and continued to hone his artistic talents as a cartoonist for the college newspaper. He began the Calvin and Hobbes strip in 1985 and retired the strip in 1995. Within the first year, the strip was syndicated in over 250 newspapers. Watterson is a very private person and has not published any other strips. He is credited with changing the format of the Sunday strip, to allow for the merging of frames, diagonal reading, and frames-within-frames. He currently lives in Cleveland with his wife. (Information in this author biography is from Wikipedia.)

Challenge issues
Calvin is an equal opportunity offender. You could say that he's sexist, since he hates Susie, his mom, and babysitter, but he also attacks Moe and his Dad with equal aplomb. There are ideas in these strips that are decidedly complex for kids and that perhaps adults would be uncomfortable explaining to them.

Booktalking Ideas
Oh, do we have to? Again, my guess is no need to booktalk this one. Kids love Calvin. And they know about Calvin. But it would be an obvious selection for a booktalk on graphic novels and comics, and since there is lots of genre cross-over here, you could promote it in a humor or science fiction or fantasy or realistic fiction booktalk. But how about in a booktalk on winter sports? It would be excellent to show some of the more creative snow sculptures and snowball fight sequences.

Curriculum Ties
Older students could be asked to "read" Calvin and Hobbes for cultural references and then research their origins and context for more information. Younger and older students could be asked to create a simple strip with themselves as the protagonist, in the style/spirit of Watterson. Have they experienced a "Calvin moment" with a teacher, parent, or arch-nemesis? Their would not even need to include text at all, as there are many examples of strips that include no or few words.

Why this book?
As with Tintin, any collection without a representative the Calvin and Hobbes would be remiss. Calvin and Hobbes books, also like Tintin, are read and loved to death in the library. These comic strips appeal to all ages, at a variety of levels from burp humor to deep philosophy.

Watterson has received many awards, including multiple Harvey Awards, Eisner Awards, and Reuben Awards, and an Adamson Award.

Rockport Public Library owns?
No. (But there are others!)

No comments: