Michigan Elementary School Bans Captain Underpants over Gay Character

A Michigan school whose motto proudly declares “Preparing Students for the Changing World” has acted otherwise with the ban of the newest Captain Underpants novel from their recent book fair for its allusion to a gay character.

The Arborwood Elementary School parent-teacher organization decided to ban Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot when they were notified that the book contained a gay character — a fact that is only uncovered at the end of the book, when it is noted that Harold, one of the series’ protagonists, grows up to be an artist living with his domestic partner Billy.

Normally parents aren’t given the option to regulate what books should be included in the school’s book fairs, but when school administrators learned that the fair list might contain “a book that may be a little controversial,” they in turn notified the parent-teacher organization and allowed the handful of parents involved to determine the fate of the book.

“Most of the kids come in and they buy books and the parents aren’t part of the selection,” commented Barry Martin, Monroe Public Schools superintendent to Detroit ABC affiliate WXYZ. “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.” As Peter Hart of the National Coalition Against Censorship aptly pointed out, “As they see it, the book fair is where kids shop without parental supervision, and the book could make some parents a little uncomfortable.”

“I think at this kind of age, a parent should be involved with them because they’re so young that they maybe need to be explained what this is about,” said Sherika Watkins, a parent in support of the ban. Although it has been reported that most of the school’s parents were in favor of having the book removed from the fair, others have pointed out the absurdity of the action. “If you’re in this world, they should know about that regardless. I mean, (parents) should have that conversation before it’s brought up,” retorted parent Kimberly Rose.

Although the book has been removed from the physical book fair, “the school decided we’ll make it available online,” said Martin. “But we won’t make it available in the actual book fair itself.” Martin further noted that the thought that pulling the book from the fair was the “appropriate” call. “I support the decision of the parent group and the principal for handling [the situation] this way.” 

Author Dav Pilkey is no stranger to his series being challenged. Captain Underpants has repeatedly been on the American Library Association’s most frequently banned books list for its “unsuitable content.” Pilkey uses these challenges as an opportunity, though, to educate people about the detriment of banning books. In his recent editorial piece on The Guardian Pilkey reminds parents like those at Arborwood Elementary that:

All that’s required is a simple change. Instead of saying ‘I don’t think children should read this book,’ just add a single word: ‘I don’t think my children should read this book’… When it comes to books, we may not all agree on what makes for a good read — but I hope we can agree that letting children choose their own books is crucial to helping them learn to love reading… While changing ourselves we can still allow everyone the freedoms they deserve.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!