A Forgotten Childhood Series: Captain Underpants

STORY BY Grace Jung

Published: July 7, 2013

My family and I were cleaning out our basement a few weeks ago when I rediscovered some books that had been carefully tucked away in a cardboard box. As I rummaged through the Clifford’s and the Arthur’s, I finally managed to brush off the dust on a few books from the Captain Underpants series.

Does it ring a bell? If you didn’t live under a rock or weren’t subjected to only reading school-appropriate literature, it probably will.

In 1997, author and illustrator Dav Pilkey published the first book of the Captain Underpants series, which was followed by nine other books and three spin-offs throughout the following years. The stories document the adventures of two mischievous fourth graders, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, who hypnotize their school principal Mr. Krupp into believing he is their self-created comic book character called Captain Underpants. Together, the three run into trouble and attempt to save the world from villains such as Dr. Diaper, the talking toilets, Professor Pippy Pee-Pee Poopypants (no seriously), and Wedgie Woman.

Unsurprisingly, the series landed itself on the Banned Books list multiple times, actually beating out Fifty Shades of Grey in the 2013 edition of the American Library Association’s annual “Challenged Books” list at number one. Perhaps the offensive bathroom humor or George and Harold’s disrespectful attitude towards authority had something to do with it, but Pilkey is inclined to disagree. According to the referred Huffington Post article above, Pilkey stated, “I don’t see these books as encouraging disrespect for authority. Perhaps they demonstrate the value of questioning authority. Some of the authority figures in the Captain Underpants books are villains. They are bullies and they do vicious things.”

Whether schools allow it in their libraries is at their discretion, but parents should be open-minded about the series and should allow their children to explore the books on their own. While it may not be the ideal, thoughtful literature parents hope to raise their kids with, sometimes, children just need a senseless good laugh.

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