He pulled the book off the shelf, and a grin spread across his face.
"This one!! This kid at my school has it. It is SOOOOO funny!"
Seriously? Captain Underpants? In this whole "City of Books", that's the one he finds?
As an English teacher, I cringed. I had read The Adventures of Captain Underpants when it first came out, searching for low-level, high-interest books for the boys in my remedial middle school class. And while that book's particular brand of potty humor, negative adults, slightly disrespectful heroes, and minor violence wasn't my thing, it certainly worked for some of my students who had never read a book on their own before. But I thought it would be long-forgotten by the time I had my own children who were ready to read on their own.
I was wrong. There are now twelve of them. And my six year old wanted one desperately. So I pulled the old, "You can spend your own money on it, or we can check it out from the library." The little miser went for the library.
That afternoon we headed to our local branch where he decided to check out not just one, but three Captain Underpants books. The moment we got home, he curled into the couch and began reading. Now, to this point, he's read a lot of picture books and magazines on his own, and parts of chapter books with us, but never a whole chapter book on his own. For the next hour, he didn't move. He'd shout out, "Finished chapter 6!" or laugh gleefully at a silly joke or illustration. Only going for a family hike tore him away from the book, and he picked it back up the moment we walked in the door.
He read until bedtime, and finished the first book. While in bed, he began the second, and finished it before school began this morning. The third was wrapped up right before dinner time tonight. Did he correctly read and understand every word? Nope. But he understood enough to delight in retelling the stories to us over dinner. And they had him hooked in a serious way.
I had struggled with whether these books were appropriate for our family. We're not fans of potty talk, and the way that many of the adults are the enemy sets up an us vs. them mentality that I would prefer to avoid. They certainly aren't fine literature. But I decided to let it go. We talked at dinner about role models, and discussed whether the main characters qualified. We listened as he shared his favorite parts, and asked lots of questions. And most importantly, he was reading. On his own. A lot.
And then, tonight, my reluctant writer sat down at the kitchen counter and began to draw his own comic strip, like the characters in the book. There's no potty talk, no evil grown-ups, no violence. It's about a castle and a super hero. And he's loving it.
So, here's a begrudging thank you, Captain Underpants. You're welcome back any time.