Keeping Company With the Captain
I was at Readerville quite some time ago, and one of the other posters was expressing some concern about The Captain Underpants series. She seemed to think there was a lot of damaging stuff in it.
Well, of course that was all I needed. I had already read the first book so I ran out to the library and got Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies From Outer Space. I liked it. I thought it was clever, I thought it was kid-centered, and I thought the humor was unpredictable. Which I think is a good thing.
On top of that, Dav Pilkey, the Captain's fearless author, doesn't talk down to kids. He uses pop culture references (something I like) and definitely doesn't limit himself to an approved kid vocabulary. By that I don't mean he uses vulgar, adult language (though you're going to see some toilet humor in this guy's work). I mean this book written for third graders is peppered with words like "improbabilities," "jubilant proclamations," "assault," and "triumphantly."
Of course, third grade may not be what it used to be, but I still think the vocabulary in this book is a little challenging. I also think that, like pop culture references and unpredictable humor, is a good thing. Will kids understand every word? Probably not. Will they figure out a lot of meaning from context? I think so. And they'll be figuring it out from a fun context, too.
Will kids learn to behave disrespectfully toward their principals because Captain Underpants is a nasty principal who occasionally turns into a lame superhero who runs around in his tightie whities? I don't think so. Humor comes from incongruity. What's funny about these books is the idea of the all-important school principal running around in his underwear and needing grade schoolers to keep him out of trouble. That's funny because in real life it doesn't happen. Hardly ever, anyway. I think kids get that.
And as far as making jokes about lunch ladies is concerned, come on! People have been doing that for a couple of generations now. That's not news.
Not too long ago I was ego surfing on a Saturday night (pathetic way to spend the evening, I know) when I came upon a library website that include a page called If You Liked Captain Underpants. It was a list of recommended books for readers who liked the Captain Underpants series. What do I see there but my own My Life Among the Aliens.
I am definitely happy to be keeping company with the Captain.