Celebrate the Right to Read – Even if it’s Captain Underpants

A few years back, I read a YA novel called Crank by Ellen Hopkins. It’s the story of a teen who becomes addicted to crystal meth. There’s rape, unwanted pregnancy, all sorts of drug use, and you guessed it, it’s banned in many places. It’s also required reading in high schools across the country. When my kids are old enough, it will be required reading in the Christopher house, too. One of the most amazing aspects of reading – to me, at least – is the ability to wear someone else’s skin around for 300 pages or so. Living vicariously (good or bad) through the main character, we learn about choices and their aftermath. Controversial books spark conversations, and that’s never a bad thing, in my opinion.

Today, as I was reading about frequently banned books on the American Library Association’s site, my teeth about fell out of my head to learn that the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey is on the list. My son adores these books. His fourth grade classroom has the whole series (you go, Aspen Creek Elementary!). Last week, Sam brought home the newest one, Captain Underpants and the Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers. He went straight up to his room and didn’t surface for two hours. When I called him down for dinner, he had the biggest smile on his face, and said, “I LOVE to read!” Just a few days earlier he’d said, “I HATE to read!” when forced to do his homework. We’re no strangers to drama around here.

Captain Underpants is all about potty humor. I’ve never found potty humor amusing, not even when I was a kid. But then again, I’ve never been a fourth grade boy. Honestly, I find the books a little on the crude side, but if you hang around a pack of fourth grade boys, crudeness is kind of their modus operandi. Sam thinks these books are hysterical. He shares his favorite parts with me, howling with laughter. The fact that he’s sharing what he reads makes me happy. The fact that he gets so much joy out of reading makes me unspeakably happy. So, while I may not necessarily enjoy you, Captain Underpants, I thank you and I even respect you, for making my son a better reader.

Check out this list of the top 100 banned books of the last decade. Guess what was at the top of the list? The Harry Potter series. Seriously, who are these people? So many life-changing books for me are on this list… A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Wrinkle in Time, Julie of the Wolves, Bridge to Terabithia. It makes me nauseous to think that some kids won’t ever experience these remarkable books because of censorship. I’m beyond grateful that my parents let me read whatever I wanted. I’m thankful for my school, where I read Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, and Catch 22. And I’m especially thankful that my son’s elementary school allows Captain Underpants to grace their hallowed halls.

Are there any books on these lists that surprised you? 

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8 thoughts on “Celebrate the Right to Read – Even if it’s Captain Underpants

  1. An excellent point and analysis. I’m a pretty conservative guy but, there is a right wing fringe
    out there – – – I’m sure they have their hands all over this one. Meanwhile their heads are
    implanted elsewhere. You ask “who are these people”. You are being too charitable – – –
    when you don’t answer that one.

  2. Hi – found your blog via Eugene Scott’s, so I visited. My mom, who will be turning 80 this year, has some explicit opinions on the garbage on TV (as do I but perhaps not as vociferously), but she will read just about anything, and always let us read pretty much anything as we were growing up too. My kids then grew up reading, and I let them pretty much read what they wanted as well. In fact, I think between the four of us, we have read just about every book on that list. Ridiculous list, btw. Anyway, my point is – well – my point is that the list is stupid. Ridiculous. Narrow minded. Dumb. Poopy headed.

  3. What ??!!? Capt Underpants Banned? This is disgraceful. At bedtime we rotate The Poppypants with the Mr Gum novels. My Kids work hard at school all day, they desrve a little downtime that doesn’t come from a flat screen and is not full of education.

    The people who compilled this list are monsters and fiends with wrinkled scrotums for brains. Banning doesn’t work. It always has the opposite effect.

    In the 1960s here in the Uk the Lord Chancellor – a self important goverment minister who was the arbiter of national taste – and to whom all stage play scripts had to be submitted before production; banned the re-printing of a book by the litteray great – DH Lawrence. It was “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” Penguin books prompty published a paperback full unexpurgated edition and they were taken to court under the Obsene Publications Act. The trial lasted 6 weeks and the Jury’s verdict was Not Guilty. This released the cultural log jam and suddenly the swinging sixties were off!

    The Chief Prosecutor was greeted with howels of laughter and ridicule when he asked the jury…” if it were the kind of book you would wish your wife or servants to read”.

    When my youngest comes back from Trick or treating I think we shall have a little reading of the fine Captain in solidarity.

    Happy Holloween

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