Defending Captain Underpants

2017-05_2552Hang on to your underwear and red curtains, because Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie hits theaters on June 2nd. This new animated film is based on the first book in the popular graphic novel series by author/illustrator Dav Pilkey.

The Captain Underpants books have sold over 70 million copies, but have also received their share of negative attention. While the movie poster proclaims its hero to be “50% hero, 100% cotton,” purists argue that the content of the books is 90% trash. Will your child’s literacy skills be flushed away if you allow him or her to read these glorified comic books overflowing with toilet humour and misspelled speech bubbles?

Never fear, dear readers. While traditionalists might prefer to see children sitting primly reading Anne of Avonlea, there are valid reasons to endorse graphic novels as a legitimate option for today’s young readers.

“I don’t believe there is such a thing as garbage reading,” says Lauren King-Mieske, an elementary teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board. “In my opinion, any age-appropriate book that gets a child excited about reading is a worthwhile choice.”

Here are five positive things that graphic novels bring to the table:

  1. Variety

For any new skill, whether it’s riding a bike or reading, young learners are only going to improve if they spend time doing it. “Reading takes practice,” says King-Mieske, “and it’s beneficial for emerging readers to be exposed to a variety of formats.” She points out that all reading experiences – including graphic novels – help to enhance skills such as comprehension, fluency and the ability to make connections and inferences.

  1. Momentum

Multi-book series naturally provide a sense of excitement when the reader finishes one book and eagerly moves on to the next. In her classroom, King-Mieske has noticed that graphic novels can serve as a springboard to future reading endeavours. “My hope is always that once you find something students enjoy reading and they start to feel more confident, you can encourage them to explore other books,” she explains. The Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce assists with this transition by offering two distinct formats: comic-strip style and conventional novels.

  1. Creativity

The wacky, over-the-top situations portrayed in the Captain Underpants books have undeniable appeal to kids’ imaginations. They regularly inspire my younger son to start drawing his own comic-book scenes. It’s stick-person slapstick at its best, usually with people yelling “Look out!” while others crash into walls. As a bonus, though, he’s also absorbing the elements of narrative structure. He’s learning that a proper story has good guys and bad guys engaged in a conflict that should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. The technical terms like “protagonist” and “antagonist” can come later – it’s still good exposure.

  1. Vocabulary

Although the Captain Underpants books do contain some challenging words like “tyrannical,” critics gasped at the intentional presence of spelling errors in the homemade comic strips that are part of the story. Because I’m a former high school English teacher, a copy editor, and someone who is generally obsessed with correct spelling and grammar, people have openly asked me if I am concerned about my kids reading these books.

It doesn’t bother me, for two reasons. First, these are not the only types of books they’re reading, so we’re not relying entirely on Dav Pilkey to teach them how to spell. Second, I know they see the errors for what they are. My older son is in grade 4 and recognizes that the erroneous spellings of “laffs,” “bildings” and “superherose” are funny because they demonstrate the amateur level of the kids’ comics. He reads them on his own and frequently dissolves into giggles. His younger brother is in grade 1 and has less experience with reading and spelling, so we tend to read Captain Underpants together. This allows me to explain words he may not know (like “cantankerous”) and point out the errors. It actually becomes a valuable exercise as he tries to come up with the right way to spell the word.

  1. Motivation

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney is another well-known book collection that has made the jump to the big screen. The books’ reader-friendly visuals include a lined-paper background, simple cartoon sketches, and a casual typeface. This style of book seemed tailor-made for “reluctant readers” who might feel intimidated by a full-fledged chapter book. While that may be true, the fact is that graphic novels can engage any reader because they’re highly entertaining and often flat-out hilarious. We’re instinctively drawn to things that make us laugh. When I read Captain Underpants with my kids, not even my degree in English Literature can neutralize the ridiculous power of bathroom humour. There are parental jokes thrown in too, like the mom in Diary of a Wimpy Kid having an overzealous compulsion to try every idea she sees in “Family Frolic” magazine.

To become better readers, kids need to read, both at school and at home. During the unstructured days of summer, when there is no school-based “home reading” program to adhere to, reading habits may start to slip or disappear completely. This is no reason to panic. However, if you’re looking for some light reading material for your kids this summer, try some graphic novels. Captain Underpants is not going to permanently soil your child’s impeccable reading record. In fact, he might inject some fun into your family’s reading routine. Tra-la-laaa!


Now, for some fun!  Comment below with your child’s (or your own!) favourite graphic novel, and be entered to win a collection of Captain Underpants books, and a set of Personalized Book Labels from Mabel’s Labels! Contest will close on June 11, 2017 at 11:59pm.


Kristi York is a former high school English teacher, a current writer/copy editor, and a mom of two sports-loving boys. She is a regular contributor to ParentsCanada magazine, Running Room magazine, and the ParticipACTION website. She leads a fairly low-tech life but is on Twitter @KristiYork19.

Author: Guest Blogger

78 thoughts

  1. Captain Underpants is my 4 year olds favourite graphic novel series. She asks to read it over and over again, I think because I get so animated when I read it to her 😊

  2. My boys (7 and 5) love Captain Underpants. The older one also see the spelling errors and laughs, while my younger one has taken to making his own comic books and dressing up like Captain Underpants and launching underwear at his ‘unsuspecting’ parents 🙂

  3. My 9yr old daughter loves the Captiain Underpants books. She started reading them at school and absolutely loved them. Would love to get her the entire collection for to read. It’s defiantly spiked her love for reading.

  4. El Deafo is my sons favourite right now as we are trying to introduce tolerance and learning about differences among all of us that make is each special.

  5. Captain Underpants is definitely the fave right now. My 6 year old son has recently also discovered The Bad Guys series and thoroughly enjoys them.

  6. We are huge fans of Captain Underpants too! My 6 and 7 year olds think they are hilarious and have taken to running around in their underwear.

  7. My kids definitely like Capt Underpants (Tra-la-laaaaa!) but they also enjoy the Bone graphic novels and Dog Man as well!

  8. Captain Underpants is a huge reason why my son is such an advid reader. He started reading this series in grade one with me and now at the end of grade two has read all of the novels several times independently. He also writes his own graphic texts and wants to be an author just like Dav Pilkey. We love Captain Underpants!

  9. I bought the captain underpants set for my son 2 yrs ago as a bday gift. He’s now 6 and still loves to read them!

  10. My 7 year old son is between Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. We laugh a lot together while reading these!

  11. My daughter just discovered Captain Underpants and loves them!! She would be psyched to have these!

  12. My 7 year old LOVES The Captain Underpants series – he is on his last book in the set – book #5. His reading has improved sooooo much over the past year.

  13. My 6 year old son has just recently discovered the Captain Underpants graphic novels. He asks to be read to or read them in his own EVERY single night before bed. Until we found these books he would ask for the iPad. I’m over the moon that’s he discovered a love of reading. We also can’t wait to see the movie!

  14. My daughter has always struggled reading. I found a monster high graphic novel (she was obsessed at the time) and she went from being one grade behind her class to catching up to her grade 2 peers. We haven’t read Captain Underpants yet but I am excited for any book that helps me share my love of reading with her

  15. My oldest son loves Captain underpants, Avatar and used to read The Magic Treehouse books. I am currently reading The Outlander series (when I get some quiet time, which is not often).

  16. My sons love reading! They love Captain Underpants, Dog Days, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and pretty much anything they can get their hands on!

  17. My daughter LOVES Caotain Underpants! She was a reluctant reader, and is now developing her own silly superhero books. She had me make a countdown calendar for the movie , and we are going tonight to see it. Love how many kids are excited to put their nose in a book💕

  18. Captain Underpants is a family favourite! Both my boys love reading about all the crazy adventures that Harold & George get up to. We all love the Stink series.

  19. Love Raina Telgemeier! At the elementary school where I work there are many series that are available in both graphic and traditional format (Big Nate, Babysitters Club, Geronimo Stilton, Percy Jackson,…). Often students choose the graphic format first and then move on to the chapter format for more detail. Also lots of non-fiction choices in graphic format now!

  20. My kids love Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Lego Ninjago graphic novels – these have all turned them into real book lovers!

  21. My son picked the first book in the Captain Underpants series from a recent book order. He has flipped through the pages and is eager to begin reading it.

  22. My 4 year old has just been introduced to Captain Underpants in the last couple of weeks and is obsessed. We’ve also loved Dav Pilkey’s other series – Ricky Ricotta and His Mighty Robot. However, as a cataloguing librarian and someone who works selling kids’ books to libraries I will point out that Captain Underpants is a beginner chapter book series with comics in it, not a graphic novel series while Dav Pilkey’s newer Dog-Man series is considered an early graphic novel. And while most people might not care about the distinction, it can affect where you will find these books in your library’s collection and if you want your kids to read them, you have to find them. As always, getting kids to love reading is our first priority no matter what you call it.

  23. My boys love captain Underpants & Dagman. They regularly run around in their underwear with their blankets as caps yelling “tra-la-la”

  24. My son loves Captain Underpants (we saw the movie today) and it’s spinoff books. He enjoyed Bones, the Ninjago graphic novels, and he loves Asterix.

  25. My son loves captain underpants and has read all of the books as well as the dog man books by the same author

  26. My 8 year old daughter recently fell in love with reading Captain Underpants! I’m thrilled! I’ve been a first grade teacher for over fifteen years now and fully support whatever book series lights that spark for each child. My daughter has always loved being read to, but has never been one to follow a series completely on her own. I love seeing her enthusiasm for these books now, even if they aren’t my cup of tea. Plus, it’s nice to see her “girly” side balanced out with some good old fashioned potty humor. 😉

  27. My 8 year old has not put down book one since I got it for him earlier this week! Any reading is good reading in my books and I’m happy to see him excited to read!!!

  28. My son just recently discovered Captain Underpants and is hooked! We can’t wait to see the movie now!

  29. Just bought the first Captain Underpants novel for my son. I want him to be pumped about reading just as much as he is to use his tablet! I think we have a winner!

  30. My 7 year old daughter loves Dogman. When she found out that Dav Pilkey was the author of Captain Underpants, she couldn’t wait to read these books. She’s a Dav Pilkey’s fan!

  31. My son enjoyed the Jedi Academy books. We haven’t tried Captain Underpants yet but sounds like we should pick it up!

  32. My daughter loves Captain Underpants! We enjoy reading the books together! Sometimes gross by always funny.
    She also love the Franny K. Stein books and Junie B. Jones.
    She has always loved books and reading.

  33. My son is in JK and loves Pokémon. When we went to the library one day, he noticed there were Pokémon graphic novels. He asked me to read it to him. Now we go to the library weekly and the graphic novel section is the first place we go.

  34. My son was initially a reluctant reader, but now that he’s discovered Captain Underpants, I can’t stop him. They are fun. They make me laugh too.

  35. Captain Underpants is my 6 year old son’s favourite graphic novel series! We love reading them together and have a hard time stopping at the end of a chapter! I love anything that gets him excited about reading!

  36. My children, 8 and 6, love reading in general but they always seem to enjoy reading Captain Underpants books together. They would laugh as they read and would tell each other what was funny by reiterating what they read. They would also read to each other at night which sometimes starts as an argument on who can read first. I don’t mind arguments like that! Happy Reading!!!

  37. My kiddo is a bit older but loves the amulet series. However my two younger nephews have just discovered captain underpants and think the books are hilarious! I’m just happy to see them enjoying reading.

  38. Just like many of the commentors, my son also loves the captain underpants book. We’ve only read the first one so far, but we are looking forward to getting into the next ones 🙂

  39. My five year old loves Captain Underpants! He’s starting to read them on his own and to his 2 year old sister who is starting to love them too! It’s a great series!

  40. My son loves Captain Underpants books, he also is very into Dogman from the same author. Also, he enjoys the Geronimo Stilton graphic novels where they go back in time and has taught him alot of history too! Thanks for the chance to win this!

  41. My kids have never read a graphics novel and it’s about time we change that! They are just beginning to love reading and what better way to encourage that than to introduce them to Captain Underpants. Dad will love reading the book with the kids too!

  42. My son loves the Mr Putter and Tabby series. We are trying to find different series of books to get him into this summer and want to give Captain Underpants and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid a try too!

  43. Graphic novels are a great tool for reluctant readers. My son has just discovered Captain Underpants and loves him!! My daughter has just begun to read the Narwhal and Jelly series of graphic novels by Ben Clanton.
    As a teacher, I embrace the reading of any type of texts!

  44. My 8 and 5 year olds love the Captain Underpants series! The books have deepened their love of reading and have inspired them to make their own comic book series!

  45. As a retired elementary teacher, I agree that anything that gets a child to read is valuable. Captain Underpants is little different from the comic books we read as kids. As a child matures he/ she will progress to a variety of reading material. This is one phase in reading development and a fun start for reluctant readers.

  46. My daughter loves the Little people,Big dreams series and her favourite is Frida Khalo and Amelia Earhart.

  47. My son loves anything Pokemon so Pokemon graphic novels have been his favourite so far. However, we haven’t yet tried the Captain Underpants series, so we’d love to win the set! He’s a very reluctant reader so anything that gets him excited is a good thing!

  48. My oldest likes graphic novels about Star Wars and Plants Vs Zombies(me not so much lol). He just recently asked about Captain Underpants(and if there was a movie). I think we will take a trip to the bookstore and get him some for the summer.

  49. My 8 year old son has always resisted reading and it was always a chore to get him to do it. I bought him the first couple books in the Captain Underpants series and he couldn’t get enough! I’m so happy we finally found something he enjoys and therefore is getting his reading in!

  50. Captain Underpants hooked my reluctant reader into becoming an avid reader of anything! Can’t wait to see the movie!

  51. I’m so happy (and moderately smug) to share this with my husband. He’s not at all pleased with this series. When the first trailer for the Captain Underpants movie was released, my son was instantly intrigued. I told him that if he wanted to see the movie in theaters, he would need to first read the book that it was based on. He’s now finished four books in the series and is anxious to devour the rest!

  52. My 5 year olds all time fav is Ricky Ricotta! He also loves Dog Man and we just got him into Captain Underpants!

  53. My son loves Captain underpants! He started reading them at school and brings one home whenever they’re available at the library. He has been asking for his own copies and can’t wait to see the movie!

  54. I love this seriously. My daughter hers were the Junie b series and my son only cares about paw patrol he hasn’t started reading yet lol

  55. My son loves Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. He can read them independently. We also enjoy them as a funny bedtime story!

  56. I had never heard about Captain Underpants but when my 7 yr old expresses that this is his favorite and had built up his anticipation you take notice and investigate.

    This would be a great prize pack to win!

  57. We just discovered Captain Underpants. I was prepared to be underwhelmed but I think I enjoyed it just as much as he did! We love the “flip o ramas” and other awesome features the book provides. And it’s funny. We’ve read the first book and my son is begging me for more!

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