Book Review 10 – The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Two fourth graders, Harold and George, are troublemakers at school that do a lot of pranks. The principal, Mr. Krupp, hated the boys and looked forward to getting them for their pranks. After putting pepper in the cheerleaders pom poms, bubble bath in the band’s instruments, and helium in the football, Mr. Krupp caught the boys by video taping them and blackmailing them to follow the rules and wash his car. The boys got a hypno-ring and hypnotized Mr. Krupp, who handed them back the video of them doing the pranks and forcing him to act like a chicken and a monkey. At that point, they transformed Mr. Krupp into Captain Underpants, who ran around in his underwear with a cape. After coming across robots stealing gemstones, the boys and Captain Underpants get caught up in the schemes of Dr. Diaper, who will use the giant gemstone to blow up the moon. After the boys defeat the robots, Dr. Diaper returns to find them pulling the self-destruct lever. They capture the evil doctor and blow up his machine, taking him to the police and reverting Captain Underpants back to Mr. Krupp.
Pikey, Dav (1997). The adventures of Captain Underpants. Singapore: Scholastic, Inc.
This book is essentially base humor that will appeal to kids, with toilet and diaper humor geared for elementary school kids. I thought George and Harold were not bad kids, but not the typical misunderstood kids either. They clearly loved pranks and had little remorse for their actions. Once they tried to turn Mr. Krupp back into his old self from Captain Underpants, they did seem to try to put it all to an end by getting him out of the hypnotic state, not realizing that whenever someone snapped he would transform back. They also did not feel it was fair to be blackmailed by the principal to do all of his work like clipping his nails or washing his car, so some justification was warranted.
Mr. Krupp was a typical mean principal who did not like the boys, wanted to get them, and once he did used his power to bend them to his will. As Captain Underpants, he was a great guy who was funny and fought crime – a sort of toilet humor Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Overall I was surprised on the one hand that it has been challenged so many times and on the other I was not. I was surprised because Pikey simply went to some of the most base toilet humor that kids would find funny. He also animated the story getting many interested in reading who may not normally pick up a book. The beauty of this book is the appeal to kids that I have worked with as a special education teacher that normally don’t like to read or struggle to read. On the other hand, I could see where parents or teachers would not want their kids reading about the principal turning into an underwear super hero that fights crime with potty jokes (the evil Dr. Diaper has a perceived poop accident and has to change his diaper) and two boys who are pranksters with little remorse for their actions. Overall it is not worth trying to ban a book that is simply humor that they already engage in with their young peers. It gets a book into a struggling or reluctant reader’s hands who may not normally read.
Pilkey plays with words and pictures, providing great entertainment. The story is immediately engaging – two fourth grade boys who write comic books and who love to pull pranks find themselves in big trouble. Mean Mr. Krupp, their principal, videotapes George and Harold setting up their stunts and threatens to expose them. The boys luck changes when they send for a 3-D hypno-ring and hypnotize Krupp, turning him into Captain Underpants, their own super-hero creation. Later, Pilkey includes several pages of flip-o-ramas that animate the action. The simple black-and-white illustrations on every page furnish comic strip appeal. The cover features Captain Underpants, resplendent in white briefs, on top of a tall building. This book will fly off the shelves.
Hopf, M. M. (1997). The adventures of Captain Underpants. School Library Journal 43(12), p. 99.
This book is a controversial book but it has a lot of appeal to struggling or reluctant readers, in my experience. Complete with pictures and a long series of books, it might develop someone who otherwise wouldn’t read into someone who will become a life-long reader because it inspired a younger person to pick up a book. The controversy surrounding the book could be discussed with what may or may not be appropriate in school or social settings. However, the appeal of a book like this can be used in the library to really get a book into a kids hands who otherwise may not read.