Thank you Lynn Reynolds for tackling the Captain Underpants series. (#13 on the ALA’s banned book list).
I remember and LOVE Captain Underpants! My son (known to readers of my own blog as Dr. Sheldon Cooper) adored the early Captain Underpants books when he was little. The Captain is the alter ego of a school principal in a series of comic books created by a couple of unruly students at the school. Then the Captain accidentally becomes real – I forget how – and hijinks ensue. The books are definitely guilty of a fair amount of “toilet humor,” as evidenced by titles like Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. To be honest, though, most of the “toilet humor” is of a much better quality than the average Seth Rogen film. It’s all very slapsticky but not at all mean-spirited.
I think my little Dr. Cooper loved them because the boys in the stories were clearly boys with “issues” like himself. In fact, the author of the books, Dav Pilkey, was diagnosed as a child with ADHD and Dyslexia, so he was one of Dr. Cooper’s early figures on his Wall of Fame, a wall we have that’s filled with photos of successful people who have ADHD/ADD, Asperger’s and learning disabilities.
Pilkey’s teachers didn’t know what to do with him and found him too disruptive in the classroom, so they put a desk out in the hallway and just left him there for long periods of time. And that’s when he started drawing and writing stories. In addition to Captain Underpants, he has several other series. Some of my son’s favorite books when he was very little were the Dragon books, about a dragon who doesn’t quite “get” a lot of things going on around him socially but who always comes out on top.
The Captain Underpants books have been subject to censorship for as long as I can remember. Before I had a hyperactive son who needed entertaining, I was sure that books with titles like “Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets” were clear signs of the collapse of civilization as we know it. Then I had Dr. Cooper and I had to learn to adjust all of my thinking about the differences between what boy children and girl children find entertaining and what constitutes a good book (answer: any book a kid wants to read as long as it doesn’t involve violence and mistreatment of others).
I assume the Captain Underpants books are frequently censored because of the mild “potty humor” – at least officially. Unofficially, I suspect many people want the books to go away because they are really quite subversive and might encourage kids to disrespect authority figures and behave in disruptive ways. But I’ve always kind of liked people who question authority, and I think learning not to be a submissive cog in the corporate machine starts pretty early in life. And maybe it starts with reading books like this.
Please check out Lynn’s Blog, www.lynnreynolds.com, to learn more about this wonderful writer and mother.