The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey had the dubious honour of being the most banned books in American libraries and schools last year, and for several years prior to this. There have been articles written in broadsheets about whether this ban is appropriate or whether it is a symptom of something deeper and more disturbing that manifests in what could be seen to be an overly moralistic society that feels its job is to sanitise what children are exposed to, to a ridiculous degree.
We have a lot of Captain Underpants books in our school (there are a huge number of the books in the series), and it has proved a consistently popular read over the years. Up until now I had never read it, but based on its notoriety I thought I really ought to check it out and see if it was actually suitable for our readers, or whether I ought to rip it from the shelves forthwith.
The book tells the story of two boys called George and Harold. George and Harold are practical jokers who delight in making their headmaster, Mr. Krupp’s life a misery. As well as playing prank after prank on their fellow students and staff, they also write and sell copies of their anarchic and silly comic books, the most popular of which is The Adventures of Captain Underpants.
Captain Underpants fights for truth and justice, just wearing a pair of y-fronts and a billowing cape. He also fights for ‘all that is pre-shrunk and cottony’.
One day, Harold and George play a spectacular number of pranks at a very important football game, but are caught by Mr. Krupps who has long suspected them and who has installed cameras around the school. He threatens to release the film to show to the enraged football team unless Harold and George do his bidding.
Harold and George are not happy about their life of servitude and send off for a ring that promises to hypnotise people. They use it to hypnotise Mr. Krupps and are so delighted by their success, they decide to suggest to him that he is actually Captain Underpants. Before they can undo what they have done, Mr. Krupps, under the illusion that he is in fact Captain Underpants, escapes the school to go and right wrongs and save the world. Harold and George set off in hot pursuit and a series of bonkers adventures ensues.
The book is richly illustrated with Pilkey’s comic strip style drawings, and there is, in fact, very little in the way of text. What text there is is well spaced on the page and easy to read. The chapters are short, and the book would be an excellent guided free reader for a child who has just moved away from the school endorsed reading scheme but needs something shorter than a novel before they get to grips with more challenging fiction.
Our Captain Underpants’ books are currently in the free reading section of our school library, but based on my reading of it, I shall be moving some of them across to our guided free reading section. I think they will be really popular, particularly with boys.
I would highly recommend them to reluctant readers, as they are more like a comic than a book, and the silly humour would absolutely appeal to children and make them much more appealing as a reading book.
I cannot, for the life of me, see why anyone would want to ban these books. They are ridiculous and funny and have no literary merit whatsoever, but I imagine that they are a boon to the teacher or parent who is struggling to engage a child to read and wants something simple enough for a challenged reader, but something which is neither patronizing nor inappropriate for primary aged children.
I recommend them to boys and girls aged from seven to twelve. I would suggest that they are better for a child to read alone with support, than for a parent or teacher to read to a child, as the comic strip layout of some of the pages, and the way the text bobs about on these pages makes them much harder to share in a traditional story time setting.