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Captain Underpants continues to plumb his young audience

Published: Saturday, Aug. 30 2014 3:45 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 2 2014 2:03 p.m. MDT

Dav Pilkey is the author of "Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000."

Kai Suzuki

While mothers tend to wince at the titles in the Captain Underpants series, they make kids giggle.

Dav Pilkey, the author of the popular series, isn't at all offended that people are initially a bit taken aback at the potty humor.

He knows his target audience: young male readers ages 7 to 12.

"The toilet humor is the attention-getting device. The story is really about the two boys, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, and their friendship," Pilkey said in an interview with the Deseret News. "They share challenges and adventures."

He's thrilled that children read his books, especially children who hadn't taken to reading before meeting up with Captain Underpants, who comes to life when a child snaps his fingers. The 11th book in the series, "Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000" (Scholastic, $9.99), was released Aug. 26.

"As a child, I didn't like to read. It was not fun for me," Pilkey said. "It was like a punishment to have to read. I did like Mad magazine and Charlie Brown comics. In fact, if it weren't for Charles Schulz, I might be illiterate today."

Pilkey started drawing and writing the stories when he was 7 and in the second grade after he heard a teacher use the word "underwear." Everyone in the class tittered, and Pilkey realized it could be fun to use it in his art and storytelling.

"That's the first day I drew Captain Underpants," he said.

He is now working on book No. 12, another story full of craziness, laughs and near-disasters.

Pilkey also had suffered under the corporal punishment that was a common form of discipline in the '70s. He knows kids need something to read that makes it all seem not so hopeless.

Mr. Krupp is patterned after a humorless principal, and the stories are designed to help show kids they are not powerless.

"These are kind of a defense," Pilkey said.

The response to the series has been very, very positive, he said.

"Some parents might look at the cover and say, 'That's just potty humor,' but they'll read it," he said. "That's the key, get a child to read and enjoy reading."

Pilkey is proud of the controversy that has put Captain Underpants at the No. 1 spot on the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom's Top 10 List of Frequently Challenged Books in America for 2013 and 2014.

The series is available in 22 languages, and "Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000" will have a first printing in English of 1 million copies.

"Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000" features a carnivorous commode on its way to devouring everything in its path.

George and Harold must save humanity before Captain Underpants is flushed away forever.

Other than potty humor, it's clear of swear words and sexual content. The extent of the violence includes cartoon characters smashing and breaking eggs all over.

Heidi Rodeback, American Fork Library board president, has bought books in the Captain Underpants series twice — once after giving them away to a thrift store.

"My boys, now 9, 15, and 23, remember Captain Underpants fondly, though not in detail," Rodeback said. "My daughter never read Captain Underpants and never cares to. This is significant. My observation as a parent and a reader has been that girls will read for many reasons, including self-fulfillment, while boys only read for necessity.

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