In 2012 and 2013, my book series The Adventures of Captain Underpants earned the #1 spot on the ALA's Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books List. I'd been on the list a few times before, but never at the top, and it came as quite a surprise to me (especially since I beat out Fifty Shades of Grey).
To set the record straight, I should point out that my books contain no sex, no profanity, no nudity, no drugs, and no graphic violence (at least nothing you wouldn't see in a 1950's Superman comic book). So what's the big deal? Well, most of it boils down to the fact that not every book is right for every person. There are some adults out there who are not amused by the things that make most children laugh, and so they try to stomp these things out. We've all met people like that, haven't we?
Recently, a young boy told me that his teacher had heard him giggling as he read Captain Underpants in school. When she saw the cover, she snapped the book out of his hands and told him that she did not allow garbage like that in her classroom.
Later at lunch, the boy saw his teacher actually reading the book (what a concept!) and he was surprised to see her laughing out loud. When he approached and questioned her, she apologized and gave the book back to him. She'd made a rash judgment based on the cover and the title, and in her attempt to steer her student toward real literature, she'd almost turned him off to reading entirely.
My goal with Captain Underpants is to make kids laugh and to give children (and especially reluctant readers) a positive experience with reading at a crucial time in their development (ages 7 to 10). Children in this age group who hate to read are in great danger of becoming functionally illiterate adults. So when a child connects to a book -- even if it's a book that we as adults might not care for -- it's a BIG DEAL!
As grown-ups, we need to respect our children's rights to choose what they want to read. Kids who have fun reading are making a connection in their brains that reading is valuable and rewarding. That very connection is what turns ordinary kids into lifelong readers.
During a recent book tour, a mother thanked me for my Captain Underpants books because they were the only things that made her son laugh after his dad passed away.
This reminded me of so many other stories I've heard from parents, where my silly books were often the only thing that brought laughter into some of the darkest situations in their childrens' lives.
One family, after burying their son with his collection of beloved Captain Underpants books, told me they still read my books whenever they need to be reminded of their son's laughter and his joyful spirit.
For me, I'd rather focus on stories like that than on the handful of challengers who want to take away our children's choices.