book reviews · Musings

Children’s Literature and Captain Underpants

One of the topics that I have been thinking a lot about lately is the role of children’s literature. I don’t read much of this particular genre but it piqued my interest last semester when I considered the classes I was going to take. Now, I’m more or less forced to critically consider its role in our history and its impact on society as a whole.

We’ve read a number of books this semester ranging from one of the first ever published children’s adventure novels, Alice in Wonderland, to more recent works like Percy Jackson and Esperanza Rising. Today’s topic, however, is The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey.

I have a confession to make with this book. When I was young, I despised it. To be clear, I never read it. It was one of those random hates that I was suddenly overcome with without much reasonable backing (yes, I was that kind of kid). The reason for my distaste was because I thought I was too mature to engage in such a book with its open use of toilet humor. I didn’t like toilet jokes. I hate toilet jokes even more now and how they are exploited for a cheap laugh in some prominent cartoons. Sanjay and Craig *ahem *ahem.

When I first went over the reading list for this class in January, I rolled my eyes. I was over my old prejudices but I thought it a bit ironic that I would now be forced to read a book that I never gave much credit to. The irony only increased when I found myself signing up to do a presentation on said book. (There were no other spot available so…)

Well, now after reading it, I have a remarkably different opinion about it. The book is really funny and entertaining. Yes, there’s toilet humor but, unlike other things that exploit it, it’s used tastefully in here. My fondness for the book only increased when I investigated Dav Pilkey’s background. Most of the malicious adult characters in the book were modeled after all those teachers he had in school that openly ridiculed him and said he wouldn’t amount to much drawing “silly comics.” Dav Pilkey had ADHD in school so he often got in trouble because of his inattention and his tendency to start trouble. Granted, when he was going to school, there was no name for the disease but it still breaks my heart that teachers would discourage a child in this way.

I admire the book even more so because of how it helps others. When I first told my eight year old brother that I was reading The Adventure of Captain Underpants for class, he got excited. This surprised me a little since my brother has made me well aware of his distaste for reading in lieu of video games. He currently thinks reading is “boring” but he was more than willing to read Captain Underpants. Regardless of my previous feelings in elementary, this book is helping kids get interested in reading. If I couldn’t appreciate the book for anything else, I still would have to give credit where credit is due.

So therefore I say,

I salute you Captain Underpants.

Keep saving the world one book at a time!

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