Captain Underpants: Historical Context
Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series, was born March 4, 1966 in Cleveland, Ohio. Consistent with his quirky personality, Dav lost the “e” from his first name when it was mistakenly left off of his name tag while he was employed at Pizza Hut. He never bothered to reclaim the letter, and thus the new spelling was born.
Much like the characters in his popular Captain Underpants series, as a child, Dav was quite the troublemaker himself. Dav spent almost no time in the classroom. Instead, he could be found in one of two places--in the principal’s office writing sentences, or with his desk in the hallway outside the classroom. Still, Dav did not let the punishment get him down or ruin his spirit.
Dav’s so called troublemaking stemmed in part from the fact that he learned differently than other children and was prone to hyperactivity. In elementary school, he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Because of this, Dav had a difficult time learning material taught in a traditional way. He also had a hard time sitting still in his seat for any period of time. He was known by his teachers and principal as a high energy, rebellious young man. They encouraged him to take school more seriously, but Dav did not listen.
It is a good thing he didn’t. While Dav was spending hours and hours in the hallway outside of his classroom, he was creating and developing the characters of his now famous Captain Underpants series. This may be the reason why the series resonates so well with young boys today. Children recognize that the books were written by one of their own. Children who fail to identify with books taken off typical elementary school reading lists can easily identify with the silly humor exhibited in Pilkey’s books.
As a child, Pilkey faced many of the same hurdles his characters face in his popular series. For example, when his teachers discovered his comic book creations, they discouraged him. Instead of encouraging his creativity, they insisted that he stop with the foolish writing and take his school work more seriously. Once again, Pilkey’s poor listening skills worked to his advantage. He did not stop working on the comic book as he was told, but instead continued to develop the hilarious characters and stories that he would later revisit as an adult, and that would eventually evolve into one of the most popular works of children’s literature to date.
Despite the frustration of Pilkey’s teachers during his youth, today he is considered one of the most popular present day children’s authors. Most importantly, his Captain Underpants series tops many elementary age children’s list of favorites, but Pilkey has many more awards to add to his resume. Most notably, they include the American Bookseller Pick of the list and a Publisher’s weekly “Cuffie” award for the funniest book of the year.