Welcome to Banned Books Week, 2019. I’ve made it something of a tradition to participate, and this year is no different! I invite you to join me this year, share your blog posts and check out what others have to say. The link will be open the entire week!
Allison is an author of mystery, suspense, and YA novels. On her blog, she publishes short stories, bonus material to accompany her books, posts about writing and teaching, and an occasional “just for fun” humor post
When Alli posted that she was seeking guest posters for Banned Books Week, complete with a list of banned titles, I jumped at one title in particular: The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey. It’s a book (the first of many in a series) that my two boys greatly enjoyed, and while my oldest has now outgrown it, my 11-year-old still pulls it off the shelf to read again. Instead of sharing a screen shot of the cover, I’m posting a shot of their actual copy so you can see how loved it is.
I don’t know why the titles on banned books lists continue to surprise me, but they do. Sometimes, I find out a beloved book about nurturance and love is really about the patriarchy (The Giving Tree), or another favorite book that shows the history of race relations in our country is really about the author’s love of using no-no words that were, you know, accurate to the time period (To Kill a Mockingbird). In the case of Captain Underpants, I was surprised because having read all of them with my kids, I found the stories to be harmless fun and definitely targeted at kids who think potty humor is funny (which is all of them. I’ve taught for almost 20 years. Just trust me on this). I mean, how can a book about two boys writing a comic book hero be so bad?
Failing to come up with a solid theory, I consulted the Googles to see why this exact book had ruffled what I assumed were Grandma’s stuffy feathers.
The first paragraph of the second link floored me.
The children’s series “Captain Underpants” has surprisingly topped the list of the most banned books in America in 2012, beating out the much more controversial title “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
That’s right: Grandma found Captain Underpants to be more offensive than 50-shades (which I’m guessing is because Grandma is a 50-shades fan when she’s not shaking her fist at children’s books, but I digress).
So what about Captain Underpants was so troubling?
According to the article I linked, it comes down to:
- Offensive language, because the kids refer to their principal as “mean” and “the old guy.” Gasp!
- Partial nudity, because The Captain flies around in his underpants. I mean . . . duh. That’s kind of the point.
- Violence, because the boys beat up robots with wooden planks. Those poor, poor cartoon robots.
- Misbehavior, because seeing the boys put bubble bath in band instruments might inspire our perfect angels to do the same.
- Blackmail, which was perpetuated by Old Man Principal to show he’s basically a bullying ass (which he is. It’s called writing an antagonist).
Yet despite these curmudgeonly complaints, Captain Underpants earned enough readers to be made into a movie. Know why? It gives the targeted audience exactly what they want. In the case of elementary-aged kids, that’s imagination, humor that might get them in trouble at church, and getting back at the bullies in their lives.
Grandma (and anyone else aghast at a cartoon dude flying around in his skivvies) just happens to not be part of that audience. And frankly, as someone who earns a living teaching kids to read, I get excited when the kids get excited about reading the books written for them. So I suggest we take a lesson from one of George and Harold’s comics: