Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


On a Lighter Note

It seems time for a break from all the political talk and deep posts about serious books and articles, so I thought I'd share my review of the latest Captain Underpants book.

Of course, I can't really not be deep and serious, as a Facebook analysis by Social Me indicated . . .

 . . . so I'll share a bit more than just the review.

In my review of Axe Cop that I shared in Imagination: Not Just for Kids, I made reference to a Dav Pilkey video about one of his books, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, which can be summed up by one of his quotes: "Encourage kids to be creative without worrying about being perfect."  It's okay if their efforts are crude and misspelled and logically inconsistent (cavemen from the future?) because they're just kids; help them express themselves regardless and don't spend too much time criticizing their mistakes.  It seems that's something he had to learn for himself in contrary response to his own experience, as he hints at in this recent interview about the new book:
This one has a strong anti-bullying message. Does it have anything to do with the subject making headlines almost every day?
Not really. To me, all of the Captain Underpants stories have anti-bullying themes. It’s just that the bullies in the previous books are grown-ups. This new book is the first time the bullies are other kids.
Were you bullied in school?
I wasn’t really bullied too much in school by other kids. I WAS bullied by grownups at my school, though. I had some really cruel teachers and a principal who was physically abusive to me and a lot of other kids. I guess I handled it the way most kids do. Fortunately, I had good parents, and I was able to get through it. Eventually, I moved to a different school and things got better.
Captain Underpants has inspired so many reluctant readers to pick up books. I once gave a teacher some of your books to give her son. She literally started to cry and thanked me because she said he finally loves reading and carries your books in his backpack. Do you think about these things while writing?
It’s so rewarding to hear stories like that. I think I was a lot like the son of your teacher friend when I was a kid. Reading was a real challenge for me. It’s not that I wasn’t smart, it’s just that I learned differently than most of the other kids in my class. I remember how hard it was for me to find a chapter book that I was interested in reading. My school librarian used to get frustrated because it took FOREVER for me to pick out a book to read. She’d finally shove a book in my hands and say, “HERE! You’re a boy! Read this book about football!” (I was even less interested in football than I was in reading). When I began writing chapter books, I purposefully designed the Captain Underpants books to appeal to kids who, like me, either didn’t like to read, or who had reading challenges. This meant the books had to have very short chapters, a high picture-to-text ratio, lots of mini-comics and novelty “Flip-O-Rama” pages, and ridiculously humorous stories and cartoons. I really made these books for the kid I used to be.
Though many wouldn't think so, it seems he's been working at preaching that message for years.  This awesome guide he created for teachers who want to use his books in their classrooms (character traits, using descriptive language, Venn Diagramming, spelling, history, science, and more) has the following introduction:
Dear Teachers,

When I was a kid, I loved to draw and make up stories. I didn’t worry about drawing things perfectly or spelling things correctly. I just wanted to get my ideas and stories on paper. I loved the freedom that came with creating stories just for fun.

Once I got published, I spent years traveling to different schools and talking with kids about my books. During these school visits, I was surprised to learn that most kids didn’t consider themselves to be artists or writers. Most kids thought they had to be able to draw Garfield perfectly to be an artist. They had also convinced themselves that they needed to spell perfectly in order to be writers. Everywhere I went, I met kids who were stifled creatively because of their fears of imperfection.

My goal at these school visits was to encourage kids to be creative without worrying about being perfect. I showed kids examples of Impressionists who drew houses upside down, painted freely, and broke all the rules. Much to the dismay of the teachers in the room, I also gave examples of famous writers and poets who didn’t use conventional spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I think the kids I spoke with were inspired by these examples, but I wanted to reach more kids, all over the world.

That’s how Captain Underpants came along. I designed each book to contain two or three “mini-comics” which were created by the stories’ protagonists, George Beard and Harold Hutchins. George and Harold’s simple, silly, and wildly imperfect mini-comics turned out to be one of the most popular parts of each book. My hope was that George and Harold’s “imperfect examples” would give kids permission to invent their own stories without concern for perfectionism, and so far, it seems to have worked. Every year, I get hundreds of original comics and stories mailed to me from kids. These kids didn’t make their comics because of a school assignment. None of these stories were proofread or graded or marked up with a red pen. These stories were all made for one reason—for fun!

And isn’t that what creativity is all about?

Dav Pilkey
So with that introduction in mind, here's my five-star review of Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers:

The thing that makes Captain Underpants so brilliant, so funny, and so popular with so many readers is not (just) the potty humor, names like Warden Schmorden and Director Schmector, and paragraphs like:

"MY NAME IS NOT PROFESSOR POOPYPANTS!" screamed the angry villain.  "That was a ridiculous name!  So I changed it to Tippy Tinkletrousers!"

It's not (just) the interactive, patented FLIP-O-RAMA pages where the action scenes come to life.  It's not (just) that the books often include comics by protagonists George and Harold, just the way third graders would write/draw them.  Nor is it (just) the wildly inventive, stream-of-consciousness plots where anything a third-grader might imagine can happen without any concern for logical consistency.

No, the true brilliance lies in paragraphs like this one:

One brisk evening in late October, the entire prison was yawning with excitement.  The prisoners had all gathered in the bleachers under a clear, moonlit sky, as the prison band played a slow, reverent, and deeply moving rendition of "Whoomp! (There It Is)".  After everyone dried their eyes, Warden Gordon Bordon Schmordon stepped onto the stage to congratulate himself.  He proudly bragged about his great humility, confessed his intense hatred of intolerant people, and spoke for hours about his legendary brevity.

Or the way that Pilkey constantly works in things like this description of George and Harold's mean principal's life in prison:

Poor Mr. Krupp.  He had been locked up at the Piqua State Penitentiary for months, and the life of a jailbird just wasn't his thing.  All day long he had people bossing him around.  He ate nutritionally deficient, horrible-tasting meals in a filthy cafeteria.  He got bullied constantly by a bunch of meat-headed thugs, and he spent his days doing menial "busy work" in an overcrowded, poorly ventilated sweatshop.

Mr. Krupp was told when to eat, when to read, and when to exercise.  He even had to ask permission to go to the bathroom!  He was constantly bombarded with pointless rules, ridiculous discipline, random searches, metal detectors, security cameras, and pharmaceuticals designed to make everyone compliant and docile.  It was a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding.

Along with the running gags and the way he works in subtle layers of humor, like the newspaper article in this image, which is an actual article with itty bitty print:

A couple of the paragraphs in the middle of the article read:

. . . This guilty verdict ended the sensational scandal that stunned the world, received massive coverage in all of the news outlets, and interrupted the narrative flow of this book with a poorly drawn newspaper that contained a bunch of really tiny words.

Dr. Kent. C. Toogood, president of Doctors United Movement to Banish Tiny Words in the Story (D.U.M.B. T.W.I.T.S.) warned that illustrations containing small words can cause eye strain, which could lead to headaches, nausea, and ridiculous acronyms. . . .

As I said in my review of The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, "No one does stupid humor as intelligently as Dav Pilkey."

It's been six years since the last Captain Underpants book, though, and Pilkey seems to know his old audience has aged.  This "Ninth Epic Novel" is significantly longer and denser than the previous ones, and is certainly not a beginning chapter book like the others.  There is even a shift in tone and topic after the first part, with the large middle section of the book being less slapstick and fantastical, more grounded in the reality of its readers.  I'm curious to know how those readers react to it; I, for one, obviously enjoyed it.

To say more about the convoluted time-travel plot that takes us to George and Harold's origin story gets into spoiler territory, so I won't.


One additional thought.  The other post in which I've previously mentioned Dav Pilkey was External Introspection: Of Guys and Books, which might make interesting companion reading if you're curious.


At 9/29/2012 1:13 PM, Blogger Lea K said...

Captain Underpants helped my son to love reading

At 9/29/2012 2:56 PM, Blogger Degolar said...

:-) As a librarian who preaches reading should be fun with Captain Underpants a prime example, I love to hear that. Thanks!


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