Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Captain Underpants and Other Scary Stuff

We could all learn a few things from the American Library Association’s “Banned Book Week.”

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Professor Poopypants must be stopped! And so must the Bionic Booger Boy and the Potty People. They are all characters in the Captain Underpants series of children's books, written by Dav Pilkey, and they are among the most "challenged" books in America in the past few years — meaning individuals or groups are trying to get them banned from libraries. In fact, according to the American Library Association (ALA), Pilkey has been the most-challenged author in the country since 2012.

Pilkey's books are literally potty humor, the type of stuff that gets boffo laffs from the elementary-school set. But some people don't think their children should be exposed to it, and they'd like to make that decision for other parents, as well.

According to ALA statistics, 429 challenges have been made against various books in U.S. libraries since the beginning of 2013. Of those, 111 were in Texas, which probably doesn't surprise anyone. In response, each September, the ALA designates a "Banned Books Week" to bring awareness of the problem to the public.

So, happy Banned Books Week, folks.

And it's not just children's books that get challenged. Other titles that routinely draw objections include The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Looking for Alaska, The Hunger Games, The Things They Carried, and The Color Purple. Grounds for challenging these books include racist content, offensive language, sexual content, homosexuality, drug- and alcohol-related content, anti-religious content, and cultural insensitivity.

Sometimes, if enough pressure is brought to bear, books get banned, even really good books. Imagine, for example, not being able to read For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. All of those books (and many more) have been removed from an American library somewhere, because they offended someone, somehow.

But that's the thing: Writing — good and bad — will always offend somebody. One person's core truth is another's big lie. The written word can trigger people's deepest fears, causing them to react with anger or to attempt to devalue the messenger. We live in a hair-trigger, ADD world, where assessing an incident in the news, or another's point of view, is often reduced to quick snark or name-calling. The internet has bred battalions of anonymous keyboard kommandos, eager to defend and promote their world-view and disparage those with whom they disagree.

Sifting the wheat from the chaff can be tough work. Just ask Captain Underpants.

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And speaking of opinions ... I'm pleased to announce that former CA editor and metro columnist Wendi C. Thomas will be writing a column for the Flyer on alternate weeks, beginning in this issue on page 10.

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