“What’s happening on this page?”
“That…. alien. Is talking to Calvin.”
“Is Calvin in jail?”
“Well… yes, he’s in jail.”
“… is that caterpillar dead?”
“Uh, no, I think it’s just resting.”
You don’t realize how un-kid-friendly your house is until you have kids over. Then you look around and say, “Huh. Nothing here is child appropriate.” But desperate times call for desperate measures. When our goddaughter Kara came to visit, I searched our bookshelves for a book — any book — that might work for a 4-year-old.
Most books we own don’t even contain pictures. Want some Hemingway, kid? Maybe a little Malcolm X, or some dystopian science fiction? We got that! And then I saw it, on the bottom shelf of the last bookcase — The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book.
Growing up, my sister and I bickered over who got the comics section of the newspaper, and the first strip I always read was Calvin and Hobbes. I loved that duo — I loved how weird Calvin was, how brave he was, how outrageous he was. But mostly I loved his crazy imagination: Spaceman Spiff, the dinosaurs, the fact that his stuffed tiger was 100% real. I was often gifted the compilations (Lazy Sunday has a note written in my sister’s childhood handwriting: “Merry Christmas, Laura!”) and after finishing each book, I’d always vow to be more like Calvin — fortunately for my parents, a vow I never acted on.
I knew the text would be a bit too advanced for Kara — but the pictures! The pictures would be great. So I pulled the book off the shelf and took it into the living room.
She loved it. The full-page drawings grabbed her attention and held it firm. But flipping through the pages, I soon recalled something about Calvin and Hobbes — something I’d forgotten from my days of reading it on the regular. Do any of you remember how dark this strip can be? Monsters and aliens trying to kill Calvin, fanged dinosaurs eating helpless dinosaurs, weird demigods of the underworld destroying villages. I had forgotten all this until Kara stopped at nearly every drawing and said, “Is that a monster?”
Now. Kara is a very sweet little girl. A sweet, imaginative little girl who remembers freakin’ everything. Seriously, NOTHING slips past this kid. Both a blessing and a curse. I was worried that if I explained all these monsters to her, she’d go home and be convinced they were waiting for her, lurking under the bed.
“Well, here Calvin is pretending…” I asked her if she ever played pretend. “This monster is in Calvin’s imagination — he’s playing pretend.” Kara would nod; we turned the page.
After a while, I noticed a trend. “Where’s the next monster?” she’d say. “No, not this page. Where’s a monster?”
Suddenly I realized — Kara wasn’t afraid of the monsters. She was seeking them out. She wanted the monsters. She wanted the slightly dark, slightly scary, 100% awesome monsters.
So often we’re afraid to let kids see anything scary. But they know what’s up. They know there’s darkness in the world. And sometimes, that’s alright. We’re all drawn to the dark, to the macabre — otherwise Sherlock Holmes, The Walking Dead, and 50 shades of vampire wouldn’t be so popular. We don’t want fairy tales and star dust. No, strike that — we want the real fairy tales, where the Fae play tricks and steal your children and return to their dark world hidden just behind the veil. We want to go to the place on the map marked “Here Be Dragons” and peer into the abyss, returning home to tell the tale.
At the end of the day, we want the good guys to win — we want good to prevail. But the monsters are alright. They keep things interesting.