STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
I'm Renée Montagne. And Steve, let's face it, when you're a child, sometimes adults can be a real drag. The new "Captain Underpants" book puts it this way: Did you ever notice how grown-ups hate it when kids are having fun? David Pilkey's "Captain Underpants" - you know, I think you're familiar with that book, right?
INSKEEP: Oh, yes.
MONTAGNE: The graphic novels...
INSKEEP: You'll see a few of them around the house.
MONTAGNE: ...are full of potty humor, wacky illustrations, and names like Tippy Tinkletrousers. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports there's a new "Captain Underpants" Coming out today.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: If you want to impress some boys, just pull out the new "Captain Underpants."
REX EXNICIOS: Ooh.
AIDAN CALIVA: Awesome.
BLAIR: Who wants to read the title?
REX EXNICIOS AND AIDAN CALIVA: Me. Me. "Captain Underpants and the Revenge of the... "
BLAIR: "The Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers." Rex Exnicios, Sundiata Haley and Aidan Caliva, second graders from Lusher Charter School in New Orleans, are huge fans because, they say, Captain Underpants is silly, has great pictures, fliporamas(ph). And with titles like...
CALIVA: "Captain Underpants and the Big Bad Battle of the Bionic Booger Boy."
BLAIR: And characters with names like...
EXNICIOS: Professor Poopy Pants.
BLAIR: What's not to love? Here's an excerpt from the new "Captain Underpants," read by Sundiata Haley.
SUNDIATA HALEY: If you're like most kids you're probably reading this very book because some adult wanted you to stop playing video games or watching TV.
DAV PILKEY: When I write for kids it's really an us and them type of situation. It's like me and the kids versus the grownups.
BLAIR: Author Dav Pilkey says he remembers what it was like to be a kid who got in trouble for his pranks. He also remembers what it was like to be a struggling reader.
PILKEY: I remember every kid in the class would have to stand up and read a chapter from our history book, or something. And whenever it was my turn, everyone would just kind of groan, like, oh, Pilkey's reading again. And it just took me so long to get through it. I had all these really negative associations with reading. I just hated it.
BLAIR: So he wanted to make a children's book that even kids like him would find irresistible. But some grown-ups, true to form, think it's inappropriate for the heroes of a children's book to be such troublemakers. The two main characters - George and Harold - are big-time pranksters.
They draw a comic strip in which they turn their mean principal into the superhero Captain Underpants who wears nothing but a red cape and underwear.
PAT SCALES: The number one complaint is - this is kind of funny - nudity, I guess, because the superhero has on Jockey shorts.
BLAIR: Pat scales is chair of the American Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee. She says "Captain Underpants" has made it to the ALA's hit list three times. That's their annual list of the top ten most-complained about books.
SCALES: Vulgar language. They feel that kids are being taught not to obey authority.
BLAIR: In the books the principal hates George and Harold's comic strip. Some parents have problems with it too, not for the content but for all the misspellings. Laugh is spelled L-A-F-F. Trouble is spelled T-R-U-B-B-E-L. Seven year old Rex Exnicios from New Orleans says that really bugs his mom.
EXNICIOS: She gets really mad because lots of stuff is misspelled in them.
BLAIR: So what does she say?
EXNICIOS: She just says that's misspelled. How you actually spell it is (makes noise). And then she just, like, spells it.
BLAIR: Pat Scales of the American Library Association says Rex Exnicios' mom is on the right track. Scales - who's a big fan of Captain Underpants - wants grown-ups to take it a step further and use George and Harold's mistakes as an opportunity to teach kids about literature.
SCALES: What I would ask kids: How does this represent the character of the two boys? What kind of students do you think they are? And then you can take it a step further if you're a teacher or even a parent, and have the kids write it out properly. How does this change tone of the book? And how does this change the humor of the book?
BLAIR: Eventually, says Scales, kids figure out how to spell the words correctly. That's what happened to Titus Adkins from Brooklyn. He's a senior in high school, but he says when he was little, "Captain Underpants" were the only books he liked. And, he says, they were the jumping off point to more books.
TITUS ADKINS: I started reading "Chronicles of Narnia" when I was in second grade, because of Captain Underpants.
BLAIR: Just because it was a book or because it was "Chronicles of Narnia"?
ADKINS: It was because it was a book that my mom told me to read. And she said it was sort of like "Captain Underpants." She kind of lied to me to get me to read it.
BLAIR: A trick that could've come straight out of "Captain Underpants." Titus Adkins says he got hooked on the "Narnia" books too.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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