Here we are at day four of Banned Books Week! Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite books written for young readers: Captain Underpants!
Really? Captain Underpants? Yes! Captain Underpants! I love these books! I loved them roughly fifteen years ago when my daughter (now 19) brought the first one home and, since then, I’ve loved every one I’ve seen. I couldn’t wait until my 11 year-old son was ready for them!
Why do I like them? Because they’re funny, and because they capture the interests of young and reluctant readers. I remember sitting up late one night with my mother-in-law — long after my daughter had gone to bed — as we laughed so hard we cried over some of the antics of Pilkey’s characters. They were charming, a whole lot goofy, and were exactly what my daughter needed at that time to spark an interest in reading. So, to sum up the why of what there is to love about Captain Underpants, I’d say that there are far to few books out there that can capture the attention of young and reluctant readers in the way that Captain Underpants can. That, alone, makes it a winner in my book!
According to the American Library Association, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series was the most challenged book for two straight years — 2012 and 2013. Surprisingly, Pilkey’s books didn’t make the top ten list for 2014 — though I’ll bet it’s somewhere on the list of top twenty or thirty.
As the parent of a reluctant reader (two, actually), I searched for books like Captain Underpants. I’m a firm believer that children don’t truly dislike reading. Rather, they’ve not discovered what they like to read. It takes time. Some people are still searching for their niche as adults. My job as a parent is to help my children find that niche so that they can fill it sooner rather than later.
So what’s “wrong” with Captain Underpants? According to an NPR article, Pilkey himself suspects that one of the underlying reasons for some of the challenges is that the book’s main characters “challenge authority.” NPR quotes Pilkey as saying:
“I don’t consider the books to be anti-authoritarian,” he says, “but I do think it is important, if you think something is wrong, to question authority — because, you know, there are villains in real life, and they don’t always wear black capes and black hats. Sometimes they’re dressed like authority figures. And kids need to know that it’s important to question them.”
Ahhhh…This goes back to a theme I mentioned earlier this week — the need for our children to discover that the world around them is bigger than themselves, and that they need to think critically and come to their own conclusions. As parents, of course we don’t want our children to be disrespectful, but do we really want them to not question something they know is wrong, even if the perpetrator of the wrong-doing is an authority figure?
You see, that’s what reading does! Reading opens the mind of the reader. It teaches him to think for himself and to make opinions about the world around him.
Kudos to Dav Pilkey and others like him who aren’t afraid to make our children think.
Do you have a child struggling to understand about banned books? Do you struggle with how to handle a book that you don’t want your child to read? No worries! As a parent, it’s you’re right to decide appropriate reading material for your own children. This wonderful video by Dav Pilkey might help you navigate the waters of how to handle the situation if you find that you disagree with a book in your child’s library. Enjoy!