by Neelima Vinod

What do you do when children stop listening to the stories that you read to them as they have better things to do? Sometimes they don’t want to see books at all. It could remind them of homework or the idea of effort. It could make them think that you are forcing your ideas upon them. Whatever it is, there was a short time in my life when my twin sons moved away from books and entered the glossy world of car magazines.

I wanted them to enter the world of conversation and fiction again, not just because that is one of my gifts to them, but because listening to stories can teach a great deal. So I introduced them to Bill Waterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. They took to the six-year-old Calvin and his toy tiger Hobbes like fish to water. They completely identified with Calvin’s misery at getting ready for school. They were wondrous about Calvin’s adventures with snow, as snow has dreamlike associations where I live, a land of sun and rain. Their ideas about stuffed toys as possibly living were affirmed. Vocabulary began to fascinate them– Calvin’s philosophical diatribes went over their heads, but their hearts were filled with admiration that a boy like them could have so much wisdom.

Anirudh drawing

Calvin, as illustrated by seven-year-old Anirudh

I grew down with them. Reading Calvin and Hobbes loosened me up and turned me into the seven-year-old kids that I had. Of course they couldn’t open their sticky eyes in the morning. Of course they couldn’t do their division and fractions one hundred percent right. Of course the stuffed bear in my room was smarter than I was. It all made sense.

Then we started reading Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. In spite of exposure to video games and cartoons, they swallowed these comic strips with gusto. They wanted more because the comics were about children who had problems like they did. There were vulnerable spots in their lives that video games could not address.

And children do have problems, no matter how ridiculous that idea seems. They worry about the group of kids who bully them. They worry about what the opposite sex thinks of them. They worry about what their teachers think of them. They worry about the immature vagaries of mom and dad. Comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes give kids out of the box solutions to deal with these problems–  they could for instance turn into Spaceman Spiff or wrestle with a dinosaur. The imagination could come to their rescue.

To yours as well.

If you want to give your child the gift of reading you’ll have to read to them and find ways to make that reading interesting for you as well. Get them into the comic world and see if they would like to explore it on their own. My sons are now official Bill Waterson fans, and I’m hooked to one more hyperactive character.

Parenting has perks like these.

 © Neelima Vinod and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013

Neelima Vinod writes fiction and blogs poetry at She’s written a book with a paranormal twist, which will be coming out soon.