- Author: Dav Pilkey
- Ages 5-10
- 12 books in the series
Book Series Overview
As cartoons, comics, and video games have taught us, children love potty humor. They can’t get enough of words like “poopy”, “snot” and “fart”. While many parents and educators look down on this brand of childish humor, others understand the power these toilet jokes can have when wielded properly.
One such author is Dav Pilkey, creator and illustrator of the wildly popular Captain Underpants series. Pilkey’s first tale of underwear action was published in 1997. The Captain Underpants series of children’s books has gone on the sell over 80 million copies around the world, and even spawned an animated film from Dreamworks Animation.
While currently successful, Pilkey’s uniquely childish hero was not always accepted by the public, and in some cases still isn’t. When Pilkey was in the second grade, he drew his first Captain Underpants comic, which his classmates loved. His teacher has not so amused.
“She took that drawing away from me, right out of my hand and ripped it up right in front of me, and she pointed to the classroom door and said, 'Mr. Pilkey, out!'" Said Pilkey.
Pilkey was often punished for acting out in school, as he was diagnosed with A.D.D at and early age. He always had trouble in school, finding it difficult to remain still or pay attention in class.
Once Pilkey went to college at Kent State University, where his professors encouraged his humor and writing. One teacher suggested that he try writing children's books, which he wrote and submitted to a contest. He would win the top prize, which lead him to becoming a published author in 1987 with the book World War Won.
After writing numerous children’s books for various age ranges, Pilkey eventually came back to his elementary school superhero Captain Underpants. He brought the story to many publishers, but often received the same response.
“[They would take] one look at it, 'Nope,' they sent it right back."
Once he reworked the story, Pilkey’s potty humor ladened origin story titled The Adventures of Captain Underpants was released to the world in 1997. The series would soon become a worldwide phenomenon that is still popular with today’s children, and the adults who grew up with these books.
The initial story follows best friends George Beard and Harold Hutchins, two fourth graders who love pulling pranks at school and creating comic books after school. One of their most popular stories is The Adventures of Captain Underpants, who fights for “truth, justice, and all that is pre-shrunk and cottony.” Their harmless pranks and childish comics often get them into trouble with their mean principal Mr. Krupp.
The boys buy a hypnotizing ring, called the 3-D Hypno Ring, which they use to put Mr. Krupp into a trance, convincing him that he is Captain Underpants. From there, Mr. Krupp, now donning nothing but a red cape and tighty whities, attempts to stop crime across the city, with George and Harold following to try and return him back to normal.
They eventually come face-to-face with the evil Dr. Diaper, a mad genius bent on destroying the world with his robots and his killer machine, Laser-Matic 2000. The boys manage to stop Diaper’s plan with help from “rubber doggy doo-doo” and some good ole’ fashioned “graphic violence”.
The trio return to school, returning Mr.Krupp back to normal by splashing water on him. But this inadvertently makes it so whenever Mr. Krupp hears a “snap” of the fingers, he once again becomes Captain Underpants.
The Captain Underpants series features constant toilet humor, featuring killer talking toilets or the boys changing signs to read “Pick Our Noses”. The boys themselves are pranksters, and the series maintains its goofy, irreverent tone throughout all 12 entries.
The series has received criticisms from parents due to this childish humor. Many are worried that the potty language and portrayal of inappropriate behavior will reverse the disciplinary actions parents and teachers take towards their kids.
As such, the series has often joined the Office for Intellectual Freedom’s list of Top Ten Challenged Book, which is a list of the books in a given year that have received the most complaints in libraries and schools. These books have often been banned from libraries or condemned by parents.
While Pilkey has been known to poke fun at the level of notoriety his books have received, he ultimately seems disappointed at the negative response he often gets from parents and administrators.
“I don't think [the notoriety] helps get my books into the hands of kids,” said Pilkey. “Parents are busy and they don't have time to read everything, so I think it does hurt my chances of getting my books into the hands of kids that would really respond to them."
Getting kids to read is Pilkey’s ultimate goal when writing the Captain Underpants stories and their numerous spin-offs. He includes toilet humor because: “When I was in second grade, that was what made everyone laugh.”
"I wanted kids who hate reading to find these books irresistible," Pilkey said. "I had a lot of reading problems growing up. It used to take me forever to read and comprehend stuff, so I decided not to make the Captain Underpants books TOO challenging."
Pilkey uses the gross-out jokes to draw his young audience in, but the material itself is more inclusive and sophisticated. The writing often includes word-play and puns, with names like “Miss Anthrope”, or alliteration-laden titles like Captain Underpants and The Attack of the Talking Toilets.
Pilkey also makes his illustrations a vital part of the reading experience. They take up a majority of the page, with the writing itself describing what is visualized, as the drawings help to give life to the words themselves.
Each book also includes sections titled “Flip-o-Rama” where readers can flip two pages back and forth to create simple animations for the action scenes. Readers are also encouraged to create their own sound effects.
While the writing and stylization of the books are used to make the series more accessible, Pilkey also ensures that his characters are relatable to kids, especially those that were like him when he was growing up.
Pilkey has said that George and Harold have A.D.H.D, similar to himself. This is why they are always acting up and getting lost in their own imaginations, because it's a common experience for those with the same disorder.
George and Harold are not discouraged by the books for their love of mischief, but rather celebrated for their imagination and humor. This is Pilkey’s way of showing kids that they can be appreciated for who they are, similar to how he was raised in his household.
Whenever Pilkey would be punished at school, or administrators would tell his parents that he was “not fitting in”, he would “always came home to a safe place and a place where I was encouraged and got so much love." This supportive environment would lead him to pursue writing, and these books often encourage kids to continue reading and discovering new books.
While many parents are still critical of the irreverent and childish antics of Captain Underpants, many more see the potential in their children finding a book they love to read.
In an article written by Beth Nissian for CNN in 2000, multiple parents and librarians were interviewed to give their thoughts on Pilkey’s series of children’s books.
According to Amy Daniels, a children’s librarian in South Carolina, “Rarely do we encounter books that will make children beg for more.” She adds on, "Captain Underpants is my hero."
Many parents share this same sentiment, with Mary Jo Dickerson, mother of a 9-year-old boy, saying “any book that encourages my son to read is worth its weight in gold."
Pilkey continues to inspire new readers, releasing new children’s books in the spin-off series Dog Man. While these stories are not as controversial as the undie-clad superhero, they still retain the goofy, childish humor Pilkey has become known for.
"I have the best audiences; I have the best readers," Pilkey said, "and that's one of the things that keeps me going."
The Captain Underpants children’s book series is one of the most popular products at TheBookBundler.com. These stories are perfect for beginner readers or those with an equal passion for toilet humor and an aversion to reading.
Captain Underpants Book Series List
- The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets
Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds)
Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants
Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman
Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 1: The Night of the Nasty Nostril Nuggets
Captain Underpants and the Big, Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy, Part 2: The Revenge of the Ridiculous Robo-Boogers
Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People
Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers
Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers
Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000
Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot
Sam Goodrich grew up reading to pass the time in school, seeing it as a way to entertain himself after a test. Now he's become a writer himself, hoping to expose the positive sides of media. When he's not writing about books, Sam is watching every movie, playing a few games, and trying to find ways to talk about them with anyone who will listen. His other work can be found on his portfolio website: https://goodrichsamuel.