Many books have been controversial over the years and some have even been banned from libraries. Such classics as The Great Gatsby, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird were prohibited because of sexual themes, violence, racism, and the use of racial slurs. One could argue that these books had clear reasons to be lightning rods for controversy and could easily be on a list of books parents hate.
But then there’s one book series that seems to have found its own lightning rod more recently. What is this series of books about? Is it about children working in a brothel? No. Is it about kindergarteners starting their own underground cockfighting pit and gambling ring beneath the elementary school? Wrong again.
It’s about a child who fights crime in his underpants. That’s right folks, there’s controversy over a series of graphic novels for children 8 and up, where a child in underpants saves the world from crazy villains and yes, one of them is named Professor Poopypants. Poop, that’s the biggest problem here. There’s toilet humor and some cartoon violence. No racial slurs, no hating against people with other skin tones, no suicides. Just jokes that kids find funny and the occasional misspelled word used for humor.
These very things that entertain kiddos seem to cause a book to become one that parents seem to hate.
When I read reviews from parents railing against this series of books, I just want to ask them, “Did you watch Scooby Doo as a kid? How about Tom and Jerry?” These were and ARE shows that kids and adults alike love! They are not meant to educate or inform. They’re simply there for entertainment value. But you know what? Captain Underpants and yet another controversial kids series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid are far better than any cartoon or movie your kid is ever going to watch. Why? Because they. are. reading.
I remember a series of books I enjoyed when I was a child having the same level of controversy surrounding it. The Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. These were deemed too scary for school-aged children by many libraries, mostly due to the illustrations found in the book.
But I’ll tell you this, my copies of these books were well worn. And my peers, the children that weren’t allowed to read them, they were reading them in secret and feeling like rebels doing it. If the books were too scary, that child learned their lesson and wouldn’t continue reading them. But for those of us who could handle them, they became a fantastic gateway into other amazing books that were slightly darker.
One thing I loved about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is that it truly felt like it was meant for us kids. The author, Alvin Schwartz, and illustrator, Stephen Gammell, really tapped into the feeling that children wanted books that’s sole purpose was to send chills down their spines. These were scary stories and that was it. There were no swears, and no real violence, and no moral. Just creepy ideas and unnerving illustrations. Things a child would find frightening. These two men knew their audience. And just like Captain Underpants, they were read for entertainment value.
As I got older, I was actually shocked to find out that these books had been banned in some libraries. How were children ever supposed to find out what their likes and dislikes were if they were never given options? Those books no doubt spawned multitudes of avid Stephen King readers later in life and possibly illustrators. I’m very thankful for that series as I’m sure others are.
Why is it wrong for a child to be entertained while discovering the joy of reading? The. JOY. of reading. Let’s face it, folks, not many of us are picking up War and Peace at the end of the day to relax and take our minds off of things. For the most part, we pick up books that take our minds off of our troubles and give us a little relief from things happening in our daily lives.
Don’t books like Captain Underpants, Dogman, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid provide the same sort of escape for our children? Let’s not forget that the day-to-day life of our children is not all fun and games. Every single day they learn how to navigate complex relationships, find their place in the world, and discover who they are as human beings, on top of all of academia that is added to their day. If my kid wants to unwind with some poop humor and some misspelled words because for that moment he can just enjoy something that was written specifically for him or her to relax and laugh, I have no problem with it and, in fact, in our house, we encourage it.
Laughter and humor can get people through a lot. The world is changing and I’m unsure of what the future holds for my beautiful children. My guess is that they will be dealing with far bigger issues than I had to deal with growing up. Is it so wrong to teach them that laughing can be a huge release and a sense of humor can be thought of as a superpower in middle school or high school, the times when the rubber really hits the road as far as hormones and personal discovery?