This installment of our Author Spotlight segment focuses on Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series of books, and one of Reading Rewards’ most widely read authors.
When Mr. Pilkey agreed to answer a few of our questions, we seized the opportunity to ask him about his next novel, “Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000“, which will be released on August 26th, 2014.
We also asked him to expand on his childhood experiences and the teachers who influenced him most. We were as taken with his answers as we are with his famous novels.
Please share your comments on Mr. Pilkey’s interview. Do you see any of your current students in his words? Did any of his comments strike a particular chord with you?
Reading Rewards: Who were your childhood heroes?
Dav Pilkey: My heroes have always been monsters. King Kong, Godzilla, and Gamera were my favorites (and still are).
Reading Rewards: Do you remember the day you thought of the idea for Captain Underpants? What can you tell us about it?
Dav Pilkey: Yes. I was sitting in my 2nd grade classroom when my teacher used the word “underwear”. Everyone around me started to laugh. My teacher got very angry and shouted, “UNDERWEAR IS NOT FUNNY!” We all laughed even harder. So I took out a piece of paper and drew a picture of a superhero with a red cape and underwear, and I named him Captain Underpants. He was a big hit with everybody in my classroom—except for my teacher, of course.
Reading Rewards: How have your characters evolved over time?
Dav Pilkey: My characters haven’t really evolved. They’re just as silly and immature as they’ve always been.
Reading Rewards: When did your parents first take note of your creative writing? Did they support your aspirations?
Dav Pilkey: My parents were always my biggest supporters— even when my teachers and principals were not. I started making my own comic books in the second grade, and my teachers ripped them up almost as soon as I finished them. But my parents encouraged me to make comics at home, and I spent a lot of time making comics just for them.
Reading Rewards: Do you have a relationship with your old principal?
Dav Pilkey: No. He was even WORSE than Mr. Krupp, if you can believe it. I try to stay away from people like that.
Reading Rewards: Do you hear from your readers much?
Dav Pilkey: I get letters and original home-made comic books from my readers all the time. It’s one of my favorite things about my job.
Reading Rewards: How do you keep young in your writing to stay relatable for kids?
Dav Pilkey: When I write the Captain Underpants books, I really try to write through the characters of George and Harold. I even pretend to be them, especially when I make their comics and graphic novels (like the Super Diaper Baby books). It’s pretty easy to do, especially since George and Harold are both based on me (when I was a kid).
Reading Rewards: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Dav Pilkey: I like to be near nature, especially the ocean. I also like watching movies and listening to old jazz music.
Reading Rewards: One of Reading Rewards’ missions is to help reluctant readers. Were you a reluctant reader as a child? If not, what sort of books did you enjoy?
Dav Pilkey: I was a reluctant reader when I was a kid. I also have (and still have) dyslexia, which can make reading very challenging. I’m probably the slowest reader you’re likely to meet, but I actually DO love to read. I loved to read when I was a kid, too, as long as I could choose what I WANTED to read. As long as I could read comics and joke books, I was happy. But if I had to read textbooks and worksheets, I was miserable.
Reading Rewards: In your opinion, what difference can the right teacher make in the life of a child?
Dav Pilkey: I wouldn’t be making books today if it hadn’t been for a teacher I had in college. She liked my writing and noticed that I loved to draw, so she encouraged me to make children’s books. I wrote my first children’s book that year, and it got published. If I hadn’t met that teacher, Captain Underpants would not exist today. So I’d say that the right teachers can not only influence lives, they can change the whole world!
Reading Rewards: You didn’t have such an easy time in school during your earlier years. Can you tell us a bit more about that? What advice would you offer to your former self?
Dav Pilkey: I had a tough time in school when I was a kid. I had (and still have) ADHD and dyslexia, and those challenges made it very difficult for me to pay attention, and even to behave in school. If I could send a message to myself back in elementary school, I’d tell myself to relax and not worry so much. Being different (and thinking differently) can actually be an advantage, as long as you work hard and try your best.
Reading Rewards: Which is your favorite Captain Underpants book and why?
Dav Pilkey: My favorite Captain Underpants book is book #9 (Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers). It’s also my LONGEST book (over 300 pages). I like this book the best because it tells the story of how George and Harold met in kindergarten, and how they had to work together and use their brains to defeat a group of 6th grade bullies. There are no super-powered heroes in that story—just lots and lots of sneaky, silly pranks.
Reading Rewards: We were excited to hear you are about to release a new Captain Underpants book, “Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000“. What can you tell us about it?
Dav Pilkey: The new Captain Underpants book comes out August 26th, 2014, and it picks up right where the last book left off. George and Harold get in HUGE trouble this time, and when they try to fix things, they accidentally create duplicate versions of themselves. Things get weirder and more dangerous when the Turbo Toilet 2000 shows up looking for revenge—and we finally get to see what’s inside those three eggs that Crackers the Pterodactyl laid.
Reading Rewards: Is there a message in your series that you want readers to grasp?
Dav Pilkey: I try not to put too many messages in my books. I just want my readers to laugh and have a good time.
Reading Rewards: We have a very special request for you, on behalf of our young readers. In our reading program, children can earn special badges as they read, and when they meet specific challenges. For many of our members, reading badges are a powerful reading incentive. Would you consider designing a special Captain Underpants badge for kids who have read at least one of your books?
Dav Pilkey: I’d be more than happy to create a special Captain Underpants badge for your readers.
Thanks, Mr. Pilkey! We really appreciate you taking time to give us such a thoughtful interview.