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How Challenged Captain Underpants Series Encourages Reluctant Young Readers to Love Reading

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

The American Library Association (ALA) published their list of top ten most challenged books in 2012 as part of Banned Book Week and appearing at top of the list and the first image in a CNN slideshow is Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series. What does it mean to be a challenged book? According to the ALA, “A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.” Who challenges the book? The ALA says that the 464 formal complaints they received came from “librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens.”

“Wow,” declared Sue Wagner, a Washington, D.C. parent and blogger of Laundry for Six. “I’m speechless. Really?”

Objections to Captain Underpants could land it with these 15 classic children’s books that have been banned in America but are there lessons to be learned from the underpants wearing toilet plunger yielding Captain Underpants character? Is there value in letting your child pick up a challenged book? Absolutely.

The Captain Underpants series is told from the perspective of George and Harold, two fictional elementary aged kids whose comics start each of the books and are interspersed throughout the chapters. Their top secret “infomashional” comics are filled with words that are spelled exactly as they sound. While younger readers may not catch the misspellings, older children do, making for perfect learning experiences where they delight in knowing that they’re better spellers than George and Harold.

“While Captain Underpants would never make my preferred reading list (the toilet humor is lost on me), my third-grader son absolutely adores this series and I am okay with that,” admitted Sarah Caron, a Connecticut parent and blogger (Sarah By the Sea and Sarah’s Cucina Bella). “These books were challenging as a second grader and that spurred him to dig into even more challenging books beyond the series (for instance, he’s been reading Tom Sawyer in his spare time). Whatever makes him a devoted and passionate reader who regularly challenges himself with harder books is a good thing to me.”

But what about the complaints to the ALA that the Captain Underpants series contains “offensive language,” “sexually explicit” material, and are generally “unsuited” to the intended age group?

“Just because a person disagrees with a topic or theme, does not give them the right to impose their beliefs upon others,” said Washington, D.C. area parent, Drew Cohen. “First Amendment- let them read, enjoy and question.”

Even though Captain Underpants may not be classic literature and the little clothing he dons with his cape would get any child sent home from school, the graphic novel’s laugh out loud potty humor appeals to kids and inspires them to read other books in the series for more of George and Harold’s misadventures. It’s ironic that the complaints about Captain Underpants and other challenged books on the list were filed by librarians, teachers, and fellow parents-  individuals who we trust will inspire our kids to read. After all, getting reluctant kids to read is an important first step to developing a lifelong love of reading for pleasure.

But not all librarians agree with pulling challenged books from the school shelves. Naomi Gelfand, a school library media specialist in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland said, “Whatever gets your children to read is great.”

Parents tend to agree. “I have a reluctant reader,” Ilina Ewen from Dirt and Noise shared. “I let him choose anything that he fancied just to see him experience reading for joy rather than a chore.”

Even if it’s a book from the Captain Underpants series.

Image courtesy of the author

 

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