“I was so happy…until school started.” That’s how Dav Pilkey, author of the very famous Captain Underpants series, started the book talk I just attended with my daughter.
He was speaking about his childhood with and and how he came up with the idea for Captain Underpants, among other topics. He gave the talk to a high school auditorium full of high-energy kids and their parents, including me and my daughter. This was one of his first talks to promote the recently published Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir-Stinks-A-Lot (#12 in the series).
When I first heard Pilkey was coming to town, it brought back all sorts of memories. My son, who’s now in high school, loved Captain Underpants when he was in second grade.
Even though reading came easily to my son, he thought most books were boring. He never would read unless we made him or he had to fill out a “reading log” for school.
But Captain Underpants, Professor Poopypants and Bionic Booger Boy were totally exciting to him. The books were all about kids who didn’t like school pulling crazy pranks and having wild adventures. They were full of potty humor! And they were packed with all sorts of funny drawings and cartoons. He read the whole series in what seemed like five seconds.
Parents and teachers don’t always like Pilkey’s books. They’re full of misspellings. They’ve been criticized for being vulgar and irreverent, and they’ve even been banned. But, just like my son, kids often love them.
My daughter, who’s now in third grade, has dyslexia and ADHD—the same issues Pilkey has. Like her brother, she doesn’t like to read. But it’s not necessarily because she finds it boring. She just thinks it’s hard.
So I thought, Maybe I should take her to see Dav Pilkey.
To get in to the event, you had to buy the new book. I figured this would give me a chance to see if she liked Captain Underpants as much as her big brother had. Maybe it would motivate her to push through her frustration.
We arrived at the high school early and got in the long will-call line. We picked up our copy of the book and then got in the line to get in, where the ticket-taker gave each child a red superhero cape that said “Reading Gives You Superpowers.”
My daughter put hers on right away. She then took it off and made it into a Ninja scarf, and then put it on again. She did this about 10 times! We eventually took our seats in the second row.
When Dav first came out on the stage, all the kids started yelling and going crazy. It was like he was a rock star! He stood in front of a big screen showing pictures of himself as an adorable, happy little boy.
But then the talk got a little sad. He explained how things came crashing down when he started school. His learning and thinking differences constantly made him frustrated with reading. His teacher got angry at him all the time.
Pilkey then told the kids about his greatest escape: inventing and drawing superheroes and making up stories about them.
It all started one day when someone said the word “underwear” in class. All the children started laughing uncontrollably. His teacher got mad and said sternly, “Underwear is not funny!” Everyone just laughed even harder. That’s when he first thought of drawing a superhero dressed only in underpants.
“Does anyone here have ADHD?” he went on to ask the crowd. Lots of kids started cheering.
I looked around at the parents, and I could tell that some of them were a little uncomfortable about their kids telling the whole world they had ADHD. But I could also tell there were a bunch of kids who seemed honored, as if they were part of a special club.
As for me, I’m excited about any book that gets my kids to love reading. At one point during the energetic, interactive talk, I looked over at my daughter to gauge how much she was enjoying it. I hoped that maybe she was thinking, “Wow, this is so cool! He has dyslexia and ADHD and so do I! Maybe I’ll be famous one day, too!”
But she wasn’t paying attention. She was too absorbed in reading her new book!
Learn more about how edgy books can encourage reluctant readers.
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About the author
Jenifer Kasten is a special education consultant and the parent of two children with learning and thinking differences.