Ever heard of the Captain Underpants series? We bet you have since more than 70 million copies are in print. The beloved kids' books are the work of author Dav Pilkey, who has helped millions of children grow as readers. And his latest series Dog Man has taken my fifth-grade classroom by storm.
What many people might not realize is that the man behind these hilarious books for kids is one of the nicest people out there. I sat down with Dave to find out about Dog Man, how he became a reader, and tips that he has to help us parents support our own kids as readers and writers.
Colby Sharp: Tell us a little bit about your Dog Man series.
Dav Pilkey: Dog Man is my new graphic novel series. It follows the humorous adventures of a hero who is part-dog and part-policeman. The series is my love letter to dogs, celebrating their silliness and enthusiasm, and all the funny, crazy, and endearing things that dogs do. And while the series is primarily comedic, there have been some serious themes that have come up, like abandonment, redemption, empathy, fate, and free will. The newest book, Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas (which comes out August 28th), tackles the concept of morality.
CS: What are some things parents/teachers did in your childhood to help/harm you as a reader?
DP: I had so many challenges as a young reader. I started out learning a different alphabet (the ill-fated Initial Teaching Alphabet) which confused me to no end. Then a diagnosis of dyslexia added to my discouragement.
With all of those things going against me, surprisingly, I still enjoyed reading. Unfortunately, back in those days (the early 1970's), many of my teachers didn't have the tools and resources needed to deal with somebody who had so many challenges. They would often dismiss, ridicule, and even confiscate my reading choices. This really did the most harm to me as a young reader. It reinforced the idea that reading was a chore. It was a punishment. And any joy that I did find in reading my comics and joke books was seen as insignificant and unsubstantial.
Fortunately, my mom saw what was happening and took action. She got me a library card and brought me to the library every week and let me pick out whatever book I wanted. It didn't matter if it was only a joke book or a magazine. She didn't care if it was something I'd already read a hundred times. She never treated me as if any of my choices were trivial. Reading was reading, and as long as I had my nose in a book or a comic or a magazine, I was doing something good. That is what saved me. That's why I'm a reader today.
CS: What tips do you have for parents that want to support their children in creating stories?
DP: Perhaps they could try what my parents did. They commissioned original stories from me. They asked me to create a character just for them, and to make comic books about that character just for them. So I did.
I came up with a guy called Water Man, and wrote and illustrated twenty original comic books about him and his friends. And whenever I finished a new one, my parents would drop whatever they were doing and read my new comic. They'd laugh in all the right places, and shower me with compliments. Their enthusiasm and the supportive environment they established made me want to create more.
After my first book was published, my parents gave me back all the Water Man comics I had made for them. They'd kept every issue in pristine condition, and I still have them all today.
CS: If a parent has a child that is in love with your Captain Underpants and Dog Man series, what are some other books that you would recommend that they check out for their kids?
DP: I made a quick list of some of the books and series I've been enjoying lately. All of them have high picture-to-text ratios, and they're all perfect choices to get kids to start associating reading with fun.
The Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings.
The Wiley and Grampa's Creature Feature series by Kirk Scroggs
Roller Girl and All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
The Marty Pants series by Mark Parisi
The Bird & Squirrel books by James Burks
The 13-Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths
Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy by Terri Libenson.
The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
The Inspector Flytrap series by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell
Anya's Ghost and Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
El Deafo by Cece Bell
CS: There is a "Read to Your Dog, Man" section at the end of Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties and the forthcoming Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas showing kids reading to their dogs. Can you talk about some of the benefits of reading to/with your pets?
Research from the University of California-Davis shows that kids who read to their pets can improve their fluency by up to 30 percent. There are lots of other benefits, too. Besides being a fun activity, it can also boost reading confidence, strengthen communications skills, and has been associated with increased empathy and kindness. And since animals don't judge anybody, kids don't need to feel stress if they accidentally mess up. Your dog doesn't care if you mispronounce a word, and that can help to decrease the anxiety that some kids might associate with reading.