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Getting kids to read can be difficult, but "Captain Underpants" author Dav Pilkey knows a trick: Make them laugh.
Pilkey, whose series about a whitey-tightie-wearing superhero has been giving kids the giggles for 20 years, had the kids of Lenski Elementary School in stitches when he visited last week as part of a tour to support his new book, "Dog Man."
Over the course of a goofy slide show, Pilkey, 51, told students that as a kid he felt buried under the weight of labels adults put on him: hyperactive, disruptive, inattentive. Pilkey, who was later diagnosed with dyslexia, spent plenty of time sitting alone in the hallway and started drawing comics to stay connected to his friends still in the classroom.
“Today they'd say I have ADHD,” Pilkey said. “You know what that stands for, right? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Delightfulness!”
Pilkey passed out on-the-spot drawings of his characters, but the meat of his visit was about values: creativity, perseverance, and rising above the labels others give us. And under it all was the joy of reading.
Pilkey writes to kids to subvert the typical response to reading in school, he said.
“I hope that when kids read my books, they associate reading with fun,” Pilkey said. “Reading was a challenge for me as a kid. It was like homework — something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do. My mission is to get kids to associate reading with fun. There's so much research out there that kids who read for fun do better in school, in spelling, vocabulary, math, and they have better communication skills. They're even more empathetic people. It doesn't just change their school life, it changes their whole life. I hope I can be an ambassador for reading for fun.”
The stories are relatable, said Cullen Murphy, a 9-year-old fourth-grader who introduced Pilkey at the assembly.
“George and Harold (the main characters in "Captain Underpants") remind me of me and my best friend,” Murphy said. “I like to imagine it's us, and that it's our principal running around in underwear and a cape.”
After wrapping up a lengthy retelling of the plot of "Captain Underpants," Murphy downplayed his excitement over introducing Pilkey.
“It's a big deal, but I've already met another famous person, so on a scale of one to 10, this is like a three,” Murphy said.
“I don't know why he's saying that,” Cullen's mom Maggie Murphy said. “Captain Underpants is all Cullen talks about. He's read a bunch of the books, and we're always listening to the soundtrack from the movie.”
Pilkey's work hits the right notes because he imparts sound morals and lessons while speaking on their level, said Lenski library clerk Amy Delgado.
“He gets the way kids talk,” Delgado said. “He gets how terribly funny it is to them to say 'underpants.'”
Delgado said Pilkey's books have been consistently checked out since the school announced the visit.
“To them, he's more than just an author,” Delgado said. “He's a role model and a grown-up who's funny. I don't think they generally think of us as funny.”
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