Charlie Brown might not be able to kick a football, but he hits a home run when it comes to connecting with young and old readers alike. Within KaBOOM!’s recent release, Charlie Brown: A Peanuts Collection, we see the seamless blending of nostalgia for days gone by and the honest depiction of childhood’s sometimes bumpy road that has made the Peanuts comic strip a classic since its advent in 1950.
What this compilation does well is to showcase Schulz’s uncanny ability to capture the trials and tribulations of childhood in a way that appeals to many adult readers’ sentimentality for simpler, younger days without glossing over the very real struggles that speak to younger readers directly. Right from the start, this multi-faceted approach is at work within “Charlie Brown’s Star.” As Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy ponder the night sky, Lucy sagely states, “They say if you gaze at the stars long enough, all your troubles will seem so insignificant they will disappear…” Schulz then deftly incorporates his dry sense of humor into Charlie Brown’s character-revealing response: “What do you want me to do… stand here for the rest of my life?” Life is difficult, and children may appreciate this open acknowledgment while adults have the added benefit of perspective brought about through experience. In Charlie Brown then, we find the perfect “anti-hero;” a refreshingly honest alternative to the many heroes with super-human powers who can’t help but come out on top.
The collection also highlights Schulz’s ability to convey simple truths through simple means. Instead of overly busy illustrations or wordy text, he creates panels that often feature a small cast of characters, whose expressions capture the underlying emotions and situational nuances with just a few strokes of the brush. Working in tandem with this bare-bones approach is the dialogue, which manages to convey a lot in just a few carefully worded sentences. As Charlie Brown notes within the featured storyline, “Blind as a Bat,” “Baseball is about being coordinated on purpose…not by accident!!,” which may or may not be a commentary on the metaphorical game of life.
With the setting oscillating between the comic strip’s trademark summery days at the ballpark and seemingly endless wintry stretches brightened by the prospects of a surprise snowball attack or two, the new assortment should satisfy the expectations of long-time fans while also appealing to newcomers who may share an affinity for these enduring past times, despite today’s tech-centric world. I especially appreciated reminiscing about the days of “snail mail” when handwritten letters to distant pen pals were among the main forms of social networking.
In addition, veteran fans will enjoy revisiting the very colorful, if not a bit quirky, core cast of characters while first timers will have fun getting to know the variety of personalities at play. Through the compilation’s organization, from the first half’s one-on-one character interactions to the ending’s all-star ensemble, we get to see each character at their best, or in some cases, their worst. I particularly enjoyed reconnecting with Linus, whose trusty blanket is just as ubiquitous as his various philosophies on life; Peppermint Patty, whose natural athleticism is just as admirable as her perpetual soft spot for the hapless Charlie Brown; and Lucy, whose lemonade-stand-turned-psychiatric-booth doles out advice just as sour as I imagine her lemonade would be.
Other standouts include the little red-headed girl, who is as elusive as ever; Schroeder, who is as dedicated to his mini piano as he is to warding off Lucy’s unwanted advances; and Sally, whose practical outlook on life oftentimes causes great exasperation when dealing with the likes of big brother Charlie Brown. On the other hand, I missed seeing Snoopy’s best pal Woodstock as well as the beagle’s alter ego, the World War I Flying Ace. Neither makes an appearance in this collection, which may leave some long-time followers disappointed.
Despite these omissions, the book includes enough of the Peanuts “essentials” to satisfy dedicated readers and engage newcomers. As always, adults are noticeably absent in this child-centric world, suggesting the existence of a whole layer of childhood that unfolds under the radar of parental figures. While this world can be tough, full of life’s trials and disappointments, there are moments of gold. I was particularly touched by the collection’s last vignette, “Get Well Soon Charlie Brown!,” in which Charlie Brown finds himself sick and lonely in the hospital. However, in typical Snoopy style, the loyal sidekick disguises himself as a doctor in order to sneak in and spread some cheer. In two simple-but-effective panels, we see Snoopy give the surprised Charlie Brown a huge “SMAK!” followed by the two snuggled up with big smiles on their faces. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference, and Schulz conveys this masterfully through the combination of text and image.
The compilation is a fast read that will leave many wanting more, whether first time dabblers or long-time enthusiasts. It would work well in a public or school library’s graphic novel collection, especially for the middle grades and tweens.
Charlie Brown: A Peanuts Collection
by Charles Schulz, Jason Cooper
Art by Charles Schulz, Vicki Cooper, and Paige Braddock
KaBOOM!, an imprint of BOOM! Studios, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-13