August 20, 2017

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The Latest Tale of Captain Underpants Kept Out of School Book Fair

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The latest adventure of Captain Underpants is not getting a warm welcome in Monroe, MI.

 The 12th book in Dav Pilkey’s series, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot (Scholastic, 2015) is not going to be in school libraries—nor were physical copies made available to the 900 K–6 students at their latest book fair at Arborwood Elementary Campus. The reason? A storyline that discovers that Harold, one of the main characters, becomes an artist when he grows up—and has a a domestic partner named Billy.

“The Parent Teacher Organization, who do the book sales, had been told by the Scholastic rep that there was a book in the catalog that might be a little controversial,” says Bobb Vergiels, district and community engagement coordinator for Monroe Public Schools. “Teachers do take kids into books sales, [and] there would not be parental supervision at some times, they decided not to have it on the shelves but would make it available to order.”

(Scholastic referred SLJ back to the school, without confirming the conversation.)

The eleven previous books in the “Captain Underpants” series are in Arborwood’s school library, confirmed Vergiels. (The school occupies two buildings, set across the street from each other, each serving K–6 students.) He added that there was very little interest in the 12th installment at the book fair, with just two parents asking to order the book.

The “Captain Underpants” series was twice included in the American Library Association’s most challenged book list, in 2012 and 2013.  Children, and readers of all ages, gravitate to the story in wide numbers, with sales of more than 70 million print copies worldwide, and in 22 languages, according to Scholastic’s web site.

Some Amazon commentators have expressed dislike for the recent book, referring more to the political references, such as describing the Republican party’s acronym of GOP as “Grouchy Old People” (It stands for the Grand Old Party), than a character’s sexual orientation.

As for whether parents have pushed for the book to be in the school library—or requested that it be kept out—Vergiels says he has not heard of concerns either way.

“In the past, on books that might be considered controversial for our community, we discuss the pros and cons with the parents and whether [the book] is suitable for young readers,” he says. “But in this particular case, we have not been approached by anyone.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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