Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Captain Underpants Craze

I was recently in charge of throwing our Captain Underpants party at the library. In preparation, I reread one of the books (admittedly I did not commit to reading all 10). After reading, I felt like reflecting. This should not be surprising.

For those who are unfamiliar, let's recap:

George and Harold are two fourth graders who frequently get in trouble and accidentally turn their nasty principal into Captain Underpants by hypnotizing him. The duo creates comic books which frequently become real through a series of mishaps. Adventures often include villains like toilets, Professor Poopypants, or evil lunch ladies. Parents and educators love to discuss how offensive the series is, for the following reasons:

-"Gross" language? 
-Rejection of authority
-Many comics and pictures are present even though they are chapter books

However. . .
Is it really any different than reading Archie comics? The Archie gang was overtly sexual and mature, but I still devoured any issue I could. The same goes for Gossip Girl, which also includes blatant alcohol/drug abuse. Captain Underpants may not be Jane Austen, but that's the point. Fourth grade boys aren't nearly as likely to be pulled in by tepid stories of animals or heartbreak. I'm willing to bet that, for the typical 8-12 year old boy (potentially older, too), burping, farting, and all other bodily functions are Funny with a capital "F." They eat this stuff up, and Dav Pilkey has tapped into a goldmine. 

As for rejecting authority, many heros and heroines in classic works have fought "the man." As Jessica Roake points out in this article from, even Huck Finn didn't follow directions. Let's face it, a book about boys who follow all the rules probably won't engage reluctant readers.

I firmly believe in the value of mindless activities at certain times. The way I see it, this can include reading as well as TV. I enjoy "beach reads," or books that allow my brain to relax. For those who wish to argue that Captain Underpants is not encouraging young readers to think critically, learn history, or analyze the foundation of society, are you always reading something so heavy? There needs to be time for lighthearted reading in addition to more scholarly publications. What's more, this series may engage young readers in related fields: perhaps a reader starts working on his own comic books, or tries creating a hypnotizing machine after reading about George and Harold. Before condemning the books, let's take a moment to consider how basic fourth grade humor can positively impact an audience. I'd argue that we should give Captain Underpants a fighting chance.

For the record, our attendees loved throwing bean bags in a toilet, and wearing men's underwear during a relay race. Pilkey has a strong following, and my latest run-in with Captain Underpants reminded me that it is with good reason.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Equal Access

My apologies for being a slacker or seeming disoriented. I've started a new job, moved to a new apartment, and found lots of fun things to do outside (can you blame me?).

Today's post is less scholarly and more muse-worthy.

At this stage in my life, equal access to information and services is something I find particularly relevant. My roommate/best friend and I have chosen not to pay for internet until our third roommate arrives. Don't get me wrong, we love surfing the web as much as the next person, but we're also poor. While I would love to have the capability to veg out online, it's also not a priority at this time. We've been met with many responses along the lines of, "What?! You don't have WiFI? What do you do?!" To which we typically reply, "Well, we cook. We bike. We go for walks. We talk to one another." Admittedly there is a part of me that wants to prove everyone wrong. I can live without the Internet, and so can you. It is possible. But what I really appreciate is the option to access it from my local library during this time.

I had to complete a job application online last week (I figure if I have two part-time jobs, it will be closer to the equivalent of one full-time position). While in theory I could apply using my smartphone, I would much rather use a computer. I biked to the local library, registered my card from a neighboring county, and felt the metaphorical doors opening for me. I logged into the computer, finished my application, and checked out materials that caught my eye. During my day, I was reminded of how similar my situation is to that of many patrons. It made me realize the following:
  • We cannot assume everyone has the Internet (or technology to access it).
  • In our internet-centered world, there are not many places for people to log on for free. Libraries remain steadfast!
  • Libraries are excellent as back up plans. For example, my printer jammed. I have no way to figure out what's wrong with it, nor do I have the time to research getting it repaired. In the meantime,  I can go to the library and print until my heart is content.
As a patron, librarian, and community member, the past month of my life has made me appreciate libraries more than usual (which is saying a lot). Here's hoping they continue to be crucial pillars in our ever-changing world.