Here’s something worth talking about besides the never-ending nonsense in Kentucky. The “Captain Underpants” series, which is widely beloved by children and widely poo-poo’ed by fuddy-duddies, went out with a major mic drop last week.
If you haven’t read “Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot” yet, consider this a spoiler warning. In the 12th and reportedly final book in the series, author Dav Pilkey reveals very quietly that one of the major characters that kids have been reading about for almost 20 years now, will grow up to marry a man. It happens when the two friends at the center of the story travel to the future and see themselves with their future families. One of those families looks like this:
“Soon, everyone had gathered together in Old Geroge’s studio. Old George, his wife, and their kids, Meena and Nik, sat on the couch, while Old Harold, his husband, and their twins, Owen and Kei, plopped down in the giant beanbag chair.”
And that’s it. Then comes another 86 pages of time travel, stinky gas and three helpful creatures that are half bionic hamsters and half pterodactyls.
I wouldn’t even call this a “twist”. If Harold’s sexual orientation was never mentioned before in the series, it’s only because he’s 10 years old when the rest of the story takes place. 10-year-old boys have about a million concerns more pressing than who they’re going to marry someday, so I’m not surprised that the issue didn’t arise while they were battling farts and whatnot.
Of course, I especially loved hearing this news because my family looks a lot like Harold’s family.
I only wish I had been able to see that picture when I was 10 years old. It would’ve made the following 20 years or so a lot more bearable to know that I was going to have a husband and kids when I grew up. So the thought of Harold getting that glimpse of his future made me very happy, not so much for the fictional character as for the hordes of real-life kids who’ll get a chance to see something I never got to see when I was their age.
Because I’m a sadist, I went to the book’s Amazon page to see what reviewers were saying about this revelation. Not surprisingly, some people accused Pilkey of having a political agenda. I was about in mid-eyeroll from that accusation when I saw that the book also had a bunch of jokes about the GOP (“Grouchy Old People”) and FOX News.
So maybe this was a calculated move on Pilkey’s part. If so, good for him. There’s always been room for controversial topics in middle grade fiction. Ask anyone who grew up reading Judy Blume. Ultimately, I suspect Pilkey didn’t make his creative choice for attention or because he’s beholden to some radical gay agenda. He did it because he knows and cares about his readers. He knows some of them will grow up to be gay, and pretty much all of them will grow up knowing and caring about someone who’s gay. A few of them will even go to school with my kids, and when they get to that part of “Sir Stinks-a-Lot”, they’ll go, “Oh, yeah. That’s like my friends’ family!”
Most importantly, though, I’d imagine Pilkey wrote the book this way because he knows his characters, and he’s probably been aware for a while that Harold is gay.
The good news is that as I read the Amazon reviews, I noticed two important things about the one-star smackdowns: First, they made up a mere 8% of the book’s total reviews (which I know is likely to change if some Grouchy Old People decide to start a hate campaign against the book), and second, they’re all from grown-ups.
The kids who reviewed the book — the actual intended audience — mostly gave it rave reviews. 77% of them (as of the publication of this post) rated it 4 or 5 stars.
OK, OK, but how did the kids feel about the big reveal that Harold was gay?
It’s hard to say, honestly. Only a handful of them even bothered to mention it.
Pics reprinted from “Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot” by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic, Inc., copyright 2015).