I opened my email account yesterday to find a note from my library: 25 items I had requested were being held for me at our local branch (?!?) I thought it was a mistake until I realized that the notice was actually regarding my younger daughter’s library account (for which my email is the correspondence address). She had evidently figured out the online library system and reserved all the “Baby Blues” comic strip books she could find. The library has an impressive number, as it turns out.
Baby Blues, a syndicated newspaper strip about life in a family with three young energetic children and two exhausted parents, has been my daughter’s obsession for a long time now. Last year, I worried to her teacher that my daughter gravitated to these comic books whenever she could, completely consumed with poring through her collection over and over again at the expense of reading anything “worthwhile.” Her teacher was not at all concerned, so I’ve relaxed on this, though in my more paranoid parenting moments I have fretted about how these bite-sized entertainment chunks fall into the category of low-attention span activities that plague the world of kids today.
However, I see many virtues. Here’s are some things I notice:
- The books aren’t big on words, obviously, but the pictures say a lot. We don’t spend much time analyzing pictures. It’s amazing how much can be expressed in the characters’ faces, and how the strips portray time and action. However, having just downplayed the use of words, I can cite numerous times that I’ve heard my daughter using a great vocabulary word. When I praise her and ask, “where did you learn that word?” frequently she says something like: “Oh, it was in the comic where Hammie and Zoe were…” So evidently there is vocabulary building coming out of this reading material.
- These comics normalize uncomfortable and embarrassing moments in life in different ways than can be expressed in text. In this visual format you feel for the characters differently than you would through reading words. And at the same time, this strip models a perspective of looking for the humor in these events. I’m hoping my daughter is developing empathy for exhausted parents. I think she might be getting some useful insights for potential babysitting opportunities down the road.
- I keep expecting my daughter to branch out and start writing and drawing her own strips. She frequently says, “I have a great idea for a Baby Blues comic” and proceed to describe it in depth. They usually are funny ideas - I think she’s got the style down. I’d love her to try putting her ideas on paper. So far this hasn’t happened. But she does quote strips regularly - I like when she’s listening on the edge of a conversation and will break in with, “that reminds me of this Baby Blues where…” It happens surprisingly often.
- One of my favorite things about this comic fad is that my daughter is always willing to sit down with me and read comics together. I can’t say this about any other books she’s read. She does, in fact, read other books besides comics although lately her interest has been comic heavy. Ever since she became a confident reader she has NOT wanted me to read to her at all. This is as close as I come to reliving the bedtime reading we used to do - I love snuggling up together and reading comics in tandem. And … turns out… I really enjoy the strips too (they are far better than the Archie comics that I read as a kid). We point out the ones we like best to each other.
- My daughter laughs a lot when she’s reading them. Her laughs and giggles even re-reading those favorite strips that she’s read 10^6 times make me aware of how little I laugh these days, especially now, the middle of the academic quarter. Life and work get so serious, there’s so much to do and so little time. And I forget to laugh.
Who doesn’t like a good comic? I try to bring them into class when I’m teaching, as, I’m sure, do many of you. I should try harder - my students appreciate humor, even dumb humor, and I hope they remember to laugh through the stresses of college. It’s so much easier now, with the good web resources available for finding appropriate humor for specific course content. For family laughs, I recommend picking up an anthology of Baby Blues comics. Foxtrot is good too. But if you’re in the same library district as us, you’re going to need to wait three weeks before those are back to being available on the shelves.