Dav Pilkey
Dav Pilkey

Not many people would have noticed the softly spoken man waiting at the back of a hall in an inner-Melbourne suburb. I was there to meet Dav Pilkey, an American author whose books have been on the US' most challenged list for two years running and who has school and public librarians the world over refusing to stock his titles.

I imagined the creator of such characters as Tippy Tinkletrousers and Professor Poopypants would be loud, brash and maybe a little coarse. But not Dav — pronounced Dave — the author of Captain Underpants, the worldwide publishing phenomenon that has millions of reluctant young readers reading. And the knickers of thousands of parents and teachers firmly in a knot, including this reviewer's.

I was one of the parents who initially would not allow Captain Underpants to darken our door. I viewed the stories as lowbrow literary "junk food", appealing to kids through fart jokes and toilet humour. But it wasn't long before stories of this funny little hero wearing Y-fronts and a red cape started to come home from school. My younger son devoured them, eventually turning him on to reading so that today, many years later, I was eager to find out more about the man behind the pants.

"Captain Underpants began when I was in Year 2," Pilkey explains. "My teacher happened to say the word 'underwear' in class one day and everyone started laughing.

"It didn't go over too well with her and she got really angry.

"I thought 'Gee, I should do something with this'. So I created Captain Underpants and started making comics about him."

The heroes in Captain Underpants are two young friends, George and Harold, who are finding it a little difficult fitting in at school. A little like their creator.

"I had reading problems, learning problems and behavioural problems and I would go home from school every day in tears," Pilkey admits. "The teachers just hated me."

Those teachers inspired Captain Underpants, and the problems Pilkey experienced became fodder for stories that would sell more than 70 million books worldwide.

But Captain Underpants with his brilliant-white Y-fronts is not making everyone happy. For the past two years, the series has been on the US' most banned book list. Parents and teachers are constantly throwing accusations at the author challenging him on his toilet humour, offensive language and incorrect spellings.

"You know, there is no 'poop' or 'pee' in the Captain Underpants series. There is some rubber doggy 'do do' in the first series but that's as close as you get.

"I think that sometimes a parent looks at the cover and says 'Oh that's garbage, I don't want that in my house'. These books are just adventure stories that are humorous. They are stories about friendship and I think that, for me, is the heart of the series."

The West Australian

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