Target age group: 5-8 years old
First book published:1997
Last book published: 2015
Number of books in series: 12(not including spinoffs)
Want to get your kid into chapter books?
If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.
It has everything: comic books, old-fashioned pranks, age appropriate toilet humor, superheroes, supervillains, and the famous Flip-O-Raaaamaaa(imagine that last part being announced like a wrestling cage match).
These books center around George and Harold, a pair of unabashed pranksters and amateur comic authors. After their principal, Mr. Krupp, gets footage of them in the act of single-handedly making a farce of the school’s big football game, they are blackmailed into not only becoming model students but also essentially his slaves. In a last bid for freedom, the boys order a 3-D Hypno-Ring in order to turn the tables on the toupee-topped tyrant. Using the ring, the boys accidentally convince Mr. Krupp that he is the hero from their homemade comics: Captain Underpants(Tra la laaaa!!!)
From that point onward whenever someone snaps their fingers, Mr. Krupp becomes Captain Underpants sans super powers(until the third book). In the books, he fights against giant toilets, alien lunch ladies, and truly crazy teachers. These adventures span twelve novels with an increasing number of sci-fi elements, with several spin-offs featuring the Super-Diaper Baby, some Kung-Fu Cavemen from the future, and a Dog Man.
Now, I know that there are parents who object to these books and I understand their reasoning. The humor is on the cruder end of elementary school comedy. Authority figures are demonized. And George and Harold are . . . not the best role models in the world.
However, give me a minute to make a case for these books.
These books encourage kids to truly engage in the story. Be it through the Flip-O-Rama, little in-book games, the comic books within the book, or details that encourage kids to pay attention such as the way George and Harold always rearrange what the signs around the school say into humorous messages. And because the books have such abrasive jokes, kids are drawn in to play the games and catch these details.
I’d argue that not only do they encourage reading, they encourage kids to write and take on creative endeavors of their own. George and Harold write and draw their own incredibly imaginative comics with original characters and storylines then make money selling them at their school. How many kids would do something like that today? However, the making and selling of these comics are what makes George and Harold truly cool. Their imagination is what drives the story forward. Kids read these and go: If I make up my own stories, I can be cool like George and Harold too.
And on the other end of that spectrum, there are many bad qualities that George and Harold possess: they are unquestionably bullies, really lack empathy on occasion, and have no respect for the rules.
However, this doesn’t necessarily condemn the books because it’s generally these qualities that lead to the main conflicts in the books:
- The machine made by their nemesis which they dismissed at the beginning of Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Talking Toilets leads to the creation of the Talking Toilets from the title.
- When their pranks drive the normal cafeteria ladies to quit in the third book, the Incredibly Naught Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space are able to get positions then proceed to turn the entire student population into zombies
- Repeatedly, their humiliation of teachers and fellow students leads to the teachers and students becoming super-villains straight from the boys’ comics.
This is a great starting point for a conversation about bullying and treating people properly as well as a discussion how to properly deal with being teased or treated badly. This can be a great way to start a dialogue with your child about a very common issue.
And there’s one more thing if you’re still interested after all this. Well actually, it’s two things you find out in the last book that I should warn you about. Both can also start a great dialogue with your child about different issues and lifestyles. However, I’m saying these are warnings because some people will find the revelations objectionable or deem them inappropriate for discussion with their children. In the last book of the Captain Underpants series it is revealed:
- Both Harold and George have ADHD
- In the future Harold is gay
Honestly, if you are the kind of parent who doesn’t think your six year old should be reading this sort of thing just look over the book before your child reads it or if they read it on their own, be prepared for a conversation.
Now that we’ve discussed the pros and cons of this series I would like to present some additional evidence on the merit of this series:
Now if your kid reads these and likes them here are some recommendations for further reading:
- Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot by Dav Pilkey
- Judy’s Blume’s books for younger readers, especially anything with Fudge Hatcher
- Any of the Ramona novels
- Roald Dahl, particularly Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory