Michigan School Hardly Freaked Out At All By Gay Character In Children's Book
No, the problem isn't the tentacled butt-creature
After years of upsetting the easily ruffled and delighting kids who appreciate a good booger joke (if you fail to appreciate a good booger joke, you may not actually be a kid), and in the process making his Captain Underpants books a perennial presence on the American Library Association's annual Banned Books list, writer Dav Pilkey has pushed a few extra Pecksniffian buttons in his twelfth entry in the series, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot. In a time-travel plot, Pilkey depicts one of his fourth grade heroes, Harold, as a grown-up dude who's married to a dude. Without any fuss or commentary -- it's just there, without a single rainbow flag, political slogan, or French bulldog in sight.
Needless to say, this has caused freakouts. The book was removed from last October's annual book fair at Arborwood Elementary School in Monroe, Michigan, although the school generously allowed parents to order it online. The Parent-Teacher Organization voted to keep the book off the shelves since the book fair took place during the school day, with kids shopping on their own. Heavens, the poor dears might bring home a book with a couple of cartoon men depicted as parents of twins. The rest of the series remained available for sale, so the innocent young'uns could still be corrupted by stories of Captain Underpants battling zombie nerds, the Bionic Booger boy, the evil Professor Poopypants, and a hirsute bewitched toilet named Hairy Potty. Yes, Dav Pilkey knows his target audience.
Happily, the superintendent of Rockford Public schools in western Michigan, Dr. Michael Shibler, decided to take a slightly less panicky approach to the book. It'll be on the shelf for the book fair, but the school sent a notice to parents informing them of the potentially shocking content (which is the gay part, not the bad guy with weaponized B.O.).
“My only goal right now is to be completely transparent with parents,” Shibler told TV station WXMI, “and if in fact they want to purchase this book at a book fair, then they in fact can do so, but they’re going to be informed to this potential controversy."
We can see why this would so thoroughly freak out parents, what with all the uncomfortable conversations that will undoubtedly be sparked by the time-travel reveal where Harold and his pal George meet their grown-up selves and kids.
Oh, yeah, spoiler alert:
Shibler figured that rather than ban the book or risk grumpy parents marching into schools to complain, it would be a lot easier to let parents know about the potential that a kid's book might contain a couple of drawings of boring gay dads with stubbly beards. (The adult Harold is a cartoonist who works at home, so that's a high degree of realism.)
I’m not trying to pass judgment on anything. I’m just saying, I’m going to inform you as a parent so you make the decision whether you want to buy this book at the book fair for your child
Gosh, how mature and sensible. You can imagine that somewhere in Rockford, there's a Concerned Parent already preparing a petition to have Shibley canned.
[contextly_sidebar id="7PV48V1w6t5uP8BZvLiPDuJ1EAC58chb"]We checked to see if Victoria Jackson had gotten a case of the yips over this latest cartoon attack on children's innocence, but since there weren't any tiny cartoon genitals -- or she simply hasn't heard of it yet -- there was nothing on her website (which is still true when you read the stuff that is there, haw-haw-haw). And for the most part, other than stories about the Monroe semi-banning and the mild warning in Rockford, we didn't find much online about the alleged "controversy," either; we did find this rather sweet profile of Dav Pilkey on Seattle's KING-TV, though, in which he reveals the True Origin Story of Captain Underpants. In second grade, he was struck by how much all the kids laughed when a humorless teacher said the word "underwear," and then how the room exploded in laughter when she sternly informed the kids, "There is nothing funny about 'underwear!'"
It's a heck of a lot more plausible that being bitten by a radioactive spider. In an essay at Huffington Post last year, Dav Pilkey admitted there's a serious reason behind all the booger jokes:
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!
It's nice when the good guys win now and then.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.