Humorous Portrayal of Bad Values – A Review of the Adventures of Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey

George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the main characters of The Adventures of Captain Underpants, are pranksters of the first order. In this installment of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series, George and Harold pull an outrageous set of pranks at their elementary school football game. However, unbeknown to them their mean principal Mr. Krupp has caught all of their antics on videotape and he proceeds to use the tape to blackmail them into behaving well in school and serving his every whim.

After a few days of following Mr. Krupp’s rules, the boys remember a comic-book advertisement for a “3-D Hypno-Ring” that will allow them to hypnotize Mr. Krupp and lay hands on the incriminating videotape. George and Harold follow through with their plan, and in the process have some fun with Mr. Krupp, making him believe he is Captain Underpants–George and Harold’s favorite superhero in their homemade comic books–while he is under their hypnotic spell. Silly high jinks ensue.

This book has tremendous subjective appeal: kids will love it (mine do…). The chief thing that makes it appealing is humor. For example, Pilkey’s turn of phrase itself is often hilarious. In the introductory chapter he describes George and Harold as kids who were “usually responsible…Whenever anything bad happened, George and Harold were usually responsible.” Kids will also think the fantastic nature and scale of the boys’ pranks is funny. For example, they put black pepper in the cheerleaders’ pom-poms causing the cheerleaders to sneeze uncontrollably, they put bubble bath in the marching band’s horns so the band’s playing just ends up blowing bubbles, and they replace the football team’s muscle rub lotion with “Mr. Prankster’s Extra-Scratchy Itching Cream.” And of course the potty-humor theme throughout the book appeals to a child’s (seemingly natural, if my kids are any indication) proclivity for all things potty’ish.

Despite being genuinely funny, I give this book a low rating since it is woefully thin on developmental value. Indeed, my worry is that it will actually detract from a child’s development in character. The primary fault of the book, as I see it, is that it casts the highly questionable values of George and Harold in a positive light. For example, in chapter 2 George and Harold sneak into the school office and make several hundred copies of their Captain Underpants comic book, which they proceed to sell at a profit on the playground. Moreover, in chapter 12 when the hypnotized Mr. Krupp dashes off to fight crime as Captain Underpants, the reason the boys follow and try to stop him is that they could get in big trouble if they don’t. And of course they steal the videotape evidence of their disruptive pranks from Mr. Krupp’s office. By mixing the boys’ self-serving attitudes and acts of thievery with humor, Pilkey fosters approval of their attitudes and deeds, which, in my view, is detrimental to a child’s character development.

Also worrying is the fact that every adult-child relationship depicted in this book is adversarial: the premise of the book is an ongoing battle between the boys and Mr. Krupp. Indeed, this sort of adversarial relationship between adults and children is the underlying engine of the entire Captain Underpants series. Now, while there are mean adults in the world (exemplified by Mr. Krupp), and while there is nothing wrong with depicting them in children’s literature, without parallel examples of positive adult-child relationships the bad relationships portrayed only deepen the divide between adults and children. In my view, Roald Dahl’s Matilda is a better (though perhaps still not perfect) model of how bad adult-child relationships should be treated in children’s literature.

Finally, it is likely that most parents will also not appreciate the thoroughgoing use of potty humor in the book. While this point is admittedly more a matter of taste than of a clear failure in values, I am of the view that kids need no encouragement toward potty humor. They find their own way there often enough…

Before concluding this review, I should acknowledge several factors that do lend the book a modicum of developmental value. First, it is genuinely creative, which is a characteristic we should want our kids to encounter in their books. Second, it might well inspire some kids to read who might not do much reading ordinarily. However, in my view the negative aspects of this book far outweigh these positive features. Moreover, if the child you have in mind is struggling with motivation to read, there are other creative and funny books that will serve him or her better, such as Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Are Friends or even Dav Pilkey’s A Friend For Dragon.

In sum, I do not recommend The Adventures of Captain Underpants, and I encourage you to avoid this book and others in the Captain Underpants series.

For Kids Who Like Silly: The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Book One) – A Book Review

Graphic novels are all the rage these days. They are loaded with pictures, which draw kids in, enticing them to read more. Most of them are full of action, too, which keeps them interested and reading. One of the most popular and well-known graphic novels is The Adventures of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Novel by Dav Pilkey. Here’s why I think it’s so popular.

George Beard and Harold Hutchins are best friends and fourth graders at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. They cause a lot of trouble in general, but especially in school.

One of the things that didn’t get them into too much trouble was that they made up their own superhero, Captain Underpants. He’s bald, wears a cape, and flies around in his underpants.

The boys would draw their own comic adventure stories about Captain Underpants. Then they’d sneak into the office at school and make copies of their comics and sell them to the other kids.

One day, at one of the school football games, things go terribly awry. Someone has sprinkled the cheerleaders’ pompoms with black pepper, making everyone sneeze. And the band starts spewing soap bubbles when they begin to play their instruments.

You can guess who is behind this mischief. George and Harold think nobody will ever find out that they are the ones responsible.

They soon discover that the grouchy principal, Mr. Krupp, has evidence against them. They are busted in a big way, and they have to do everything he says from now on.

Naturally, they get sick of this very quickly, so they soon hatch a plan to get out of their misery. You’ll have to read for yourself how they do it, but it involves some robots, slingshots, and fake doggie doo-doo. You’ll also discover exactly how Principal Krupp saves the day.

The book is full of large, simple, cartoony illustrations, one on every page or two. One of them shows how the boys change the sign at a flower shop. It says, “Pick your own roses!” They remove four of the letters and leave it reading, “Pick our noses!”

My favorite part of the book, and one I know kids will love, is the “cheesy Flip-O-Rama animation technique.” You grab the corner of one page and flip it back and forth, so you see the picture on that page and the page right after it. The pictures are like two cells of an animated movie or cartoon, and if you flip it fast enough, it looks like a cartoon on tv.

I love the one when they hit the robot’s head with a board, and it smashes down. It really looks like it’s moving.

This is a great book for kids who like cheesy, non-realistic action that’s kind of silly and full of the types of things a typical kid might imagine. Stuff like confronting bank robbers, hypnotizing people to do silly things, and being pulled on your skateboard behind a truck.

Reluctant readers, and especially boys who want action, will get drawn in by the pictures. It might get them motivated to try drawing their own comic superhero series, too. All in all, The Adventures of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Novel by Dav Pilkey is an easy graphic novel read for kids ages 7 to 10