Dav Pilkey, author of the wildly popular Captain Underpants and Dog Man books, talks about what got him into reading and offers advice for young reluctant readers.

By Jamie Pacton
December 15, 2016
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Not long ago, my son got to meet his favorite author, Dav Pilkey. Pilkey's clever, hilarious, and smart Captain Underpants and Dog Man books are favorites in our house; my kids and I laughed so much and so hard together as we read the series. So when we heard Pilkey was coming to our area, we jumped at the chance to meet him.

eliot and dav
Credit: Courtesy Jamie Pacton

And what an event it was! My son gave Pilkey one of his own drawings, he heard him talk about how he creates books, he won some book goodies in a raffle, and he even got to meet a life-size Captain Underpants.

e with captain underpants
Credit: Courtesy Jamie Pacton

"Basically, the best night of my life," my son told me later. (It was awesome, indeed).

Just to make things a bit better, I got a chance to catch up with Pilkey to learn more about what got him into reading and what advice he has for reluctant readers.

Did you like to read as a child? If you didn't enjoy reading, what changed things for you and led you to become a writer? Was it a book? A teacher? Something your parents did?

Pilkey: Not at first. I had a very difficult time with reading due to dyslexia. The only reading that seemed to hold my interest (MAD Magazine, comics, joke books, etc.) was considered" unsuitable" by my teachers. My school's approach to reading just didn't work for me, and I often felt frustrated and humiliated. Thank goodness my parents had a different approach. They let me read whatever I wanted without judgment or restrictions, and that is what changed everything for me. It turned me into a habitual reader.

Reading comics and illustrated stories was a huge thing for me. For some reason, this style of storytelling held my attention better than traditional blocks of text. What I didn't know then is that increased learning was also taking place. Recent studies have shown that human beings are hard-wired to find illustrated stories more memorable than text alone.

What is your favorite children's book ever, and why?

The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak). It's a seemingly simple story that a 5-year-old would understand and enjoy, but it's elegant, profound, and beautiful as well. Even though it's fictional prose, every line reads like a poem.

How do your books help kids learn to love reading?

dogman unleashed

The books I'm making now (especially my new series, Dog Man) are the kinds of books I would have wanted to read back when I was a kid. Being dyslexic, I was always looking for funny books with lots of pictures. I tend to gravitate toward comics and graphic novels, since large blocks of text can seem intimidating. If my interest isn't fully engaged, I lose focus easily.

My new graphic novel series Dog Man has all of those things, plus short chapters to help give readers a sense of accomplishment, and flip pages that give readers a bit of a break and let them "play" with their books by animating certain scenes.

I hope that my books will help kids create positive associations with reading. Kids who previously thought that reading was hard and boring may for the first time discover that reading can also be fun and rewarding. This change in mindset can have lifelong consequences.

Any other tips for parents about raising kids who love to read?

To get kids to love to read, reading just has to be FUN for the kids, and it has to be a habit. Parents can help build this habit by reading aloud to their children, even into middle school, and by reading themselves—by showing kids they enjoy it too.

I can't think of anything better than what my parents did. Letting your kids read WHATEVER they choose can be difficult, especially for parents. But we have to remember that adults and kids have very different tastes. While pulp romances and books based on video games might seem like "junk food reading," there's really no such thing.

Thanks to Pilkey for this good advice. My kids and I can't wait to read his next book. After all, as my son's new Captain Underpants cape says: "Reading Gives You Super Powers!"

e in cape
Credit: Courtesy Jamie Pacton

Jamie Pacton lives near Lake Michigan, where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook, and Twitter @jamiepacton.