Books Parents Hate: In Defense of Captain Underpants and Others


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.

child reads captain underpants

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.

scary story illustrations

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?

Come on, parents. Don’t raise your kids to be stuffy adults. Let them have their superhero who wears underwear. Let them have the chance to just be kids and love reading while they do it. Take these books off of the list of books parents hate. If you can’t do that, then I say you shouldn’t be allowed to indulge in any of your guilty pleasures. And I don’t know about you but I’m not willing to give up my “Stranger Things” any time soon.Books parents hate- captain underpants and more


  1. My book loving 7 year old picked up this book at the school library a few weeks ago. He has stopped reading better books since and is starting to show a ton of terrible behaviors, including writing a note to someone at school “you love poo poo”, because it’s funny. At a young age, kids can be just too absorbent. We’re teaching why it is not okay to mimic the behaviors, but I really think it’s wise to let them interact with better books at such young age.

    Kids can love really good books, without all the offense. I want to teach my child loving laughter, not mocking insult or the idea that “appropriate” means not fun.

  2. Have you actually read Captain Underpants?
    I wonder, because I don’t see how you could recommend them for an 8 year old. I have #10 in my hands right now, and here is a quote,
    “…I certainly can’t speak for all adults, but I’m going to anyway. I think it’s a lot easier for adults to stop out someone else’s fun than it is for them to reflect on their own lives and figure out where it all went miserably wrong. It’s just too depressing for grown-ups to ponder all the decades of compromises, failures, laziness, fear and regrettable choices that slowly transformed them from fun-loving kids into grumpy, complaining, calorie counting, easily offended grouches.”
    I want my child to be a child, not indoctrinated by this author to hate and oppose all adults and teachers, and parents! The teachers and principal in this books are constantly represented as horrible people. I am all about helping the schools in my child’s educational journey. These books oppose that.

    • Hi L. Drake,

      I have read the Captain Underpants books and many other books by Dav Pilkey. But what Dav is doing in his Captain Underpants books and many other authors before him, such as one of my other favorites Roald Dahl, is getting inside the mind of a child to connect with them. These books were written for the fun of reading and not educational purposes. How many books do we as adults read for fun? Most of the literature we consume, I would say, isn’t “high literature”. You are helping the schools by helping them instill a love of reading and by showing them that reading is fun. Every book needs antagonists and I hate to say this, but in many children’s lives, the antagonists, from their point of view, are going to be adults. I wonder how many children’s books you have actually read yourself, as you will find that many have principals and teachers as the antagonists, take Mac Barnett’s “Terrible Two” series or Roald Dahl’s “Matilda”. Books are a tiny part of our children’s lives, we as parents are made to fill in the rest of their education. Perhaps these books just aren’t your taste, which I totally can understand, there are many children’s books that aren’t mine that my kids love. But I’m not going to forbid them to read them just because I don’t want to have a conversation with them about what is fun reading and what is reality.

      Good luck on your literary journey

      Meredith Gordon

  3. Awesome awesome awesome! (I also was a fan of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and I started reading Dean Koontz when I was 12 maybe because of them.) Agree completely with you and love the fervor of the writing here.


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