Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book 2: Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets

"I would start drawing a picture of this chubby super-hero looking guy, while I talked about creating my own comic books. Then I would tell my audience the name of the character I was drawing. When I said the words 'Captain Underpants', all the kids would burst out laughing. I'd draw the underwear and the cape, and the kids in the audience LOVED it! Finally, I'd mention the title of one of the comics I had created as a kid. It was called 'Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets'. When the kids heard that title, the room would EXPLODE with laughter!"— Dav Pilkey

I figured that I'd open with a Dav Pilkey quote today, so the above comes direct from Dav Pilkey's website. Anyway, I finished book two and I'm still here. The realization that I'm coming to is that he's writing a series for the audience that probably turns to television more often than the library for their entertainment. The humor in this book would seem relatively mild were it featured in Spongebob Squarepants, so no I'm not offended by it. I think that the teachers are poor representations of real teachers, though I suspect that they are poor enough that any reader, even a child, would understand that.

George and Harold are basically the same delinquents they were in the first book. In a real school system, their parents would have been forced to home-school them and spend their every waking hour trying to keep them out of juvenile hall. Their pranks are your basic extremely expensive property destruction variety that would be a one way ticket out of any school system with a hefty bill for parents. The difference is of course that the staff and principal are all monstrously bent on George and Harold's demise, which is giving a couple of pranksters much more credit than they would get in reality.

So, the name of the game seems to be the running gag. A lot of the jokes and humorous reactions were rehashed in this volume. Basically, this works a lot like a comic book or a children's cartoon series on television. I'm reminded of my favorite show growing up, Pinky and the Brain. If Pinky didn't ask Brain, "So, Brain, what are we going to do tonight?" and Brain didn't respond, "The same thing we do every night, Pinky! Try to take over the world!" the episode just never would have happened. If the Brain didn't ask Pinky, "Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?" and Pinky didn't respond, "I think so Brain, but..." only to finish with some craziness, I think the show might have been cancelled on the spot. The same goes here.

The set-up was not so very different from the first book. The boys commit some heinous act of prankery, get away with it, villainize the staff for trying to prevent its recurrence, and are validated by the staff overreacting with evil and maniacal glee at their plan to prevent it in the future with torturous punishment. There are your first fifty pages. Then the boys manage to create havoc despite the punishment, it gets out of hand, Captain Underpants is awoken only to get in over his head, at which point the boys save him and find a way out of Mr. Krupp's endless punishment. That's the rest of the book. Oh, and whenever the action reaches a comical climax, Pilkey drops some Flip-O-Rama into the mix.

It's still funny. It's different enough to qualify as a new story. There is still that added element of an extra layer of humor for the observant reader. Overall, these aren't bad books. They're not great either, but if children are open to reading them, I say let them. I would advise that an adult just cautions the child that what they read is not an example of how things are supposed to work. Then again, if a kid doesn't figure that out on their own, chances are that things weren't quite right to begin with and this isn't going to make it any worse. Pranking isn't harmless fun, as George and Howard suggest. But looking at the reaction of the other children of Horwitz Elementary who are often the butt of the pranks, you can see that's the case. They don't look at George and Howard as heroes. In most cases, George and Howard are afraid that the other children will find out that they are behind the pranks. They know the other kids don't see the humor in ruining extracurricular school events.

That being said, I don't believe that the books condone George and Howard's actions. They just fail to condemn them, which isn't great either but it could be worse. Anyway, next up in my challenge is book three, Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space. There's a subtitle too, but I'm too tired from the first part to finish. Wish me luck.

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