book thoughts: The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

Pilkey, D.  The Adventures of Captain Underpants

The Blue Sky Press, 1997.  121 pages. 

$16.95  ISBN 0-590-84627-2


Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? – The Shadow
I am terror.  I am the night. — Batman
Up, up, and away!Superman
Tra-la-laaaaa!Captain Underpants             

            In The Adventures of Captain Underpants,the first book in a series by Dav Pilkey, we meet a pair ofpranksters.  Harold and George are best friends who like to have funtogether, which usually take the form of playing tricks on theirclassmates.  When they are not putting pepper in the cheerleader’spom-poms, the boys go to their tree house and write comics.  Harold andGeorge sell these comics to the students at their school, much to theprincipal’s chagrin.  He attempts to stop their activities and the boysretaliate by using a hypnotic ring to control the principal.  Butsomething goes wrong and the friend’s simple prank ends up transforming the principal into one of their comic book characters – Captain Underpants!

              Dav Pilkey is no slouch. Having published over 20 children’s books, he is well-known for hissilly characters and wacky imagination.  With titles like The Halo-Weiner, Dogzilla, and The Dumb Bunnies, even the earliest reader knows that these stories are meant to tickle their funnybone.  Such is the case with The Adventures of Captain Underpants, a simple chapter book meant to entertain new readers.  Each page has large print text and lots of illustrations.  Chapters are usually 4-5 pages, except when they contain FLIP-O-RAMA sequences, a very basic form of animation that instructs the reader to flip between two pages so they can see the story’s climactic battle. It’s a fun addition to the book, adding a bit of interactivity, and the novelty may inspire some young artists to create FLIP-O-RAMAs of their own.  Other pages are filled with Harold and George’s comic strips, which contain numerous creative spelling errors.

              Someadults may be concerned with the behavior of Harold and Georgethroughout the story.  They are not the most respectful of students andtheir activities do ruin the school’s big football game.  Yet theage-group that will read this book knowsthat this is pure escapism, letting them live out the fantasy ofsquaring off with the principal and fighting robots.  For an 8 year oldboy, the inclusion of fake doggy doo-doo only makes the situation morehilarious.  Theywill spot the misspellings in Harold’s and George’s comic strip andfeel proud that they are better writers than the two boys. Thebook is a great stepping stone from easy readers to beginner chapterbooks, especially for reluctant readers that might have been turned offof reading due to the mature subject matter of more acclaimed children’s literature. 

              Itis easy for parents and educator to condemn the immature elements ofthis series and want to remove it from bookshelves in schools andlibraries.  But it is important to remember that silly stories likeCaptain Underpants can show a child a whole other side of reading.  Abook that can make them laugh out loud will encourage them to continuereading.  Perhaps after they finish the stories of Harold and Georgethey will feel more confident in their reading abilities.  And maybe then they will move on to the stories of the classic and more acceptable pranksters, Tom and Huck.

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