Captain Underpants Under Fire Again?

Banned and Challenged Books, Censorship, Challenge Reporting, General Interest, Intellectual Freedom Issues

By: Jill Brown

Captain Underpants book cover
Captain Underpants will be “tra-la-la-ing” to movie theaters this summer.

The early summer release of a movie could possibly rekindle the fire of controversy surrounding one of America’s most challenged children’s books, The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey.

Directed by Rob Letterman and David Soren, the DreamWorks film is slated to hit theaters on June 2, 2017. In an exclusive first look with Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 24, 2016), Soren explains that “because the books are known for their irrelevant, genre-bending style, the film plays with form in a similar way, switching between traditional CG animation and other media, from hand-drawn 2D comic scenes to sock puppet sequences.”

Originally published in 1997, Pilkey’s book hit the ALA’s most frequently challenged book lists in both 2012 and 2013 — even landing the #1 spot in 2012 — three spots ahead of Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

Pilkey talked about making the list in a statement shared by CBS.

“It’s pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou,” said Pilkey. “But I worry that some parents might see this list and discourage their kids from reading `Captain Underpants,’ even though they have not had a chance to read the books themselves.”

In an article titled “Why ‘Captain Underpants’ Is the Most Banned Book in America,” (Sept. 26, 2013) Business Insider cites offensive language, partial nudity, violence, misbehavior, and blackmail/threats. In the Huffington Post piece “My Book Makes Kids Laugh, And It Was Banned Anyway,” Pilkey writes, “To set the record straight, I should point out that my books contain no sex, no profanity, no nudity, no drugs, and no graphic violence (at least nothing you wouldn’t see in a 1950’s Superman comic book.) So what’s the big deal? Well, most of it boils down to the fact that not every book is right for every person. There are some adults out there who are not amused by the things that make most children laugh, and so they try to stomp these things out. We’ve all met people like that, haven’t we?”

As recently as October 2016, the newest book in the series, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, came under fire at Arborwood Elementary School in Monroe, Michigan. In the LA Times article “‘Captain Underpants’ banned from school book fair over gay character,” Superintendent Barry Martin said, “The decision to ban the book, which the School Library Journal considers the book suitable for children in grades 2-4, was made by the school’s parent-teacher organization … Most of the kids come in and they buy books and the parents aren’t party of the selection. In this case, we felt it was necessary that if this book was going to be purchased, the parent needed to be involved in that.”

Report Censorship to the Office for Intellectual FreedomWhile the trailers and previews play in theaters, public libraries and school media centers can expect an increase in visibility and circulation of the Captain Underpants series. With that said, now is the best time to review the selection and challenge policies at your library! As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom has an entire online toolkit full of useful links to assist you with this process. Here are three great links to get you started…

And, as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the folks at the Office of Intellectual Freedom — they’re great. (They’ll even listen to you vent!)

50 E. Huron St.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 280-4226

Jill BrownJill Brown is the director at Millington (Mich.) Arbela District Library. Originating from a background of fighting for physical freedoms while running a shelter for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, Brown has since turned her efforts to intellectual freedom as she transitioned into the public library world. A graduate of Wayne State University’s School of Library and Information Science, Brown has continued the good fight during her years as a rural Michigan library director. Her interests include self-censorship, collection development practices in public libraries, and banned books. Brown sees all of life as an adventure, but especially enjoys the kind that gets her into the outdoors: hiking and biking. Evidence of Brown’s passion for intellectual freedom can be seen in the cover of “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury which she has tattooed on her right leg. She can be reached at

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