Captain Underpants: Parental Concerns
Since its conception, the Captain Underpants series has been material for raised eyebrows and concern among parents, teachers, and librarians. In 2002, the series was the 6th most frequently challenged according to the American Library Association. Authority figures have even gone so far as to ban the book in some schools.
A paramount concern is that the books are not age appropriate for children in elementary school. There is a fear that the children will copy the behavior of the characters in the books and that the books encourage children to disobey authority.
In addition to the anti-authority themes and general disrespect for teachers, the books exhibit poor grammar and spelling. This is largely due to the fact that the books are written from the perspective of two fourth grade boys. However, that reasoning does not stop parents and teachers from imagining what affect it will have on students.
There is no disguising the fact that Pilkey is hard on teachers. A repeated theme throughout the Captain Underpants series is that teachers are the enemies. Once a rebellious troublemaker himself, Pilkey identifies with young boys of the same type. He understands that many times teachers are seemingly the enemy to children who have a difficult time staying focused and doing what they are told.
However, it is the same characteristics that get the series pulled from elementary school shelves that make is so appealing to the children who love it. The books are geared for high energy boys, often those who are the most reluctant readers. Packed full of bathroom jokes, crudeness and gross humor, parents and teachers may roll their eyes at the content and deem it as inappropriate. However, crude humor and bathroom jokes are exactly what has children giggling on the playground and turning the pages of the fast paced books. Children who have never been excited to open a book in their lives often find the series so appealing that they cannot wait to get their hands on the next book in the series.
Hyperactive troublemakers are often the most difficult children to convince to crack a book open. Those are students the Captain Underpants series resonates with most. Once a rebellious, troublemaking young boy himself, Pilkey identifies with children of the same time. The children recognize that the book was written by one of their own and take possession over the series.
While much controversy has risen over the crude content and anti-authority themes of the series, there is no denying that the series is effective in encouraging children to read who otherwise would not. It is essential to remember that other similarly themed books such as Huckleberry Finn, The Invisible Man, and The Catcher in the Rye were once also books that were banned from the shelves of schools and libraries only to be recognized as classics years later and are now placed on required reading lists in many of our schools. It is crucial for parents and teachers to address the topics with care, and to consider the suitability of the content for their own children.