Popular children’s book writers, Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Each Kindness, and Dav Pilkey, author of the famous Captain Underpants series, each visited Vermont in October, sharing their own childhood challenges, discussing how these challenges helped to shape their own writing, and how their books now aim to support children, each in their own unique ways.

On October 13, the Vermont Humanities Council hosted Jacqueline Woodson at a traditional white clapboard church in downtown Montpelier, VT. Her visit corresponded to the news that Texas was rewriting their history textbooks to tell slave history as an ‘immigration story’. Woodson discussed about her moral and personal responsibility to document history. Talking to kids about her books has shown her that, with the current social studies curriculum, students have no context, and, therefore, no way to link slavery to the Civil Rights Movement. Woodson shares these untold stories through her books for children of all ages (she read Show Way, a picture book about how a quilt links generations together). Woodson’s autobiographical book Brown Girl Dreaming puts her own story in the context of the Civil Rights Movement (she was born in Ohio in 1963, and moved to South Carolina and then New York City).

Woodson’s talk concluded with a story of her own children’s love of Captain Underpants, and how her personal view of these popular graphic novels quickly changed when she heard author, Dav Pilkey, talk about his ‘future self’, a theme of much greater interest to her.

On a sunny fall day, a standing room only crowd of children and parents gathered in the Shelburne Town Hall to hear Dav Pilkey tell the story of how he became one of the most popular authors of graphic novels for children. As a child, Dav Pilkney was nervous about reading due to his dyslexia, but he loved to draw and make up his own stories. He also grew up with the symptoms of ADHD and was later diagnosed as an adult. His love of drawing and storytelling helped changed the way he thought about his own childhood challenges.

“Underwear is NOT funny!” Dav Pilkey’s second grade teacher pronounced to her class, and, in what the author describes as a defining childhood moment, the legend of Captain Underpants was born. When Pilkey was sent out to the hall as punishment, he began drawing the comic which would later in his life become the Captain Underpants series.

Captain Underpants is now the star character of 12 published books alongside Bionic Booger Boy and the Purple Potty People. In total, Pilkey has written 59 books for children. Pilkney’s books are always popular at CLiF book giveaways amongst avid readers and reluctant readers alike.

During his presentation, Pilkey drew some of his popular characters for the audience, gave a preview of one of his upcoming books, and talked about his writing process (one of his favorite places to write is a beach in Japan populated by monkeys!). Kids eagerly waved hands in the air to answer quiz questions based on his work (there were certainly mega-fans in attendance), and everyone took home a bright red superhero cape! The ‘laff’-filled event was hosted by our friends at The Flying Pig bookstore.

Thanks to Dav Pilkey, now even adults can begin to see the value in a good joke about underpants.

One response to “A Tale of Two Authors

  1. My mother gave my son a Captain Underpants book in Gr 2. He was bored with the class books he was rieuerqd to read and it was a real struggle to get him to read anything. With Cptn Underpants, something just exploded (pun intended!) and he turned into such a voracious reader, that by the time he started Gr 4, he was reading at middle school level in two languages. He ended up raising the bar for his whole class. They watched him for a year, then started borrowing the same books as him from the library. By Gr 5, the whole class was reading at a more advanced level than most of the Gr 6 s ( I did library duty that year). Books like Captain Underpants, that kids, particularly boys, actually WANT to read are critical to getting them off to a good start.

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