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Our Summer with Captain Underpants (and Dog Man)

Back in the winter, I reluctantly agreed to rent Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie from Red Box. I thought it would be lacking of substance, but I decided my kids could veg out as I got stuff done. Their hysterical laughter, however, beckoned me to watch with them. It was clever! Over the next few months, it became a Netflix staple. My husband downloaded the soundtrack and we all memorized the catchy songs (performed by an all-star line-up from Lil Yachty to Adam Lambert). Our kids were happy and we weren’t driven crazy!

Something even more magical happened this summer. They discovered the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey. And they became OBSESSED! George and Harold had so many more adventures in the books with new villains like Sir Stinks-A-Lot and the Wicked Wedgie Woman. Every time we went to the library, we’d check out at least five different “novels.” When possible, we would take out two copies of the same title, one for my 6-year-old daughter to read aloud and one for my 4-year-old son to “follow” along and turn pages when instructed.

Every single day, multiple chapters were read. In every single room (yes, bathroom included) and at various moments. The living room would be covered in a tornado of toys and they’d stop playing to read. When they couldn’t decide where they wanted to go for a Camp Mommy field trip, we’d sit on the couch and read. It was a great equalizer, calming tantrums and ending sibling fights. At bedtime, my husband would read one chapter, I’d read another, and my daughter would keep reading more until they got too tired or the book was finished.

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Fostering a love for reading is one of the most important responsibilities that we have as parents. I’m lucky that my kids have always loved books, but I’m luckier that they fell in love with Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series as well as his Dog Man series (more of a true graphic novel as each page contains comic strips with dialogue bubbles) on their own.

These books teach far more than I ever would have expected, both in terms of educational merit and life lessons.

1. A rich vocabulary:

While each book contains a range of sophisticated words, I quickly found “compromises, misdirection, detonate, supernova, converted, and nemesis” as I flipped back through the pages of Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers. Although kids may not pause to ask what each word means, language exposure helps with literacy. (The alliteration of the titles, too! Be still, my English teacher heart!). 

2. Variety of humor:

From potty jokes to puns to slapstick pranks to sarcasm, kids don’t miss a beat. My son says, “I can’t stand it. It’s just too much.” It’s much easier for kids to process a joke that accompanies a picture and/or story line than it is for them to pick up on an exaggerated comment their parents make in passing.

3. The power of imagination:

Of course, parents encourage their kids to be creative, but George and Harold show kids how much more amazing life is when you let your brain dream up wild stories and pictures. There are even step by step directions on how to draw cartoons in Dog Man, so kids don’t feel pressured to be perfect artists. Life shouldn’t be boring and whenever it becomes that way, find some way to add some excitement! (I’m hoping my kids won’t actually punk their teachers and principal…). 

4. Teamwork, friendship, and kindness prevail:

There is some violence, both physical and verbal, in each book, but throughout each story, characters unite against the “villains” to cheer each other up, protect each other, and restore peace. The villains all seem to share a selfish desire for some sort of domination, which helps kids understand a valuable message of not wanting too much.

Dav Pilkey, thank you for your brilliant books this summer. I had worried about surviving each and every day staying home with my kids as I rounded out (pun intended!) the end of my pregnancy, but your characters came to the rescue! 

 What books saved your summer? 

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