Banned Book Week with Captain Underpants

Here’s a dirty little secret. I like Captain Underpants.

Yes, I am a sucker for a good fart joke. Here’s my favorite scene from last season’s Brooklyn 99, featuring Terry Crews, um, farting.

My favorite Parks and Rec episode? The one withy Jerry’s fart attack. I laughed so hard I cried.

So, it should come as no surprise that my favorite Underpants line, found in The Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds, is: “And they could leap tall buildings with the gassy after-affects of their ‘Texas -style’ three-bean chili con carney. B-r-r-r-t.” You really need the visuals.

But here’s the thing, Dav Pilkey’s books are not only laugh-out-loud funny, but teach kids about writing too. How many third graders know about misdirection, a technique frequently used in suspense and mystery writing? Yet, Pilkey explains this in the beginning of one of his books after it looked like our intrepid heroes, George and Harold, had perished. I mean, the books are about writing. George and Harold are graphic novelists (fancy word for comic book writers) after all. Even Pilkey’s publisher, Scholastic, offers this guide for using Captain Underpants in the classroom.

So, in honor of Banned Books Week, here’s to Captain Underpants. And here’s a video Pilkey did just for the occasion:




PPBF: The Streak


TITLE:  The Streak: How Joe DiMaggio Became America’s Hero

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock

ILLUSTRATOR: Terry Widener

PUBLICATION INFO: Calkins Creek, 2014

ISBN: 9781590789926

SOURCE: library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 8 and up

GENRE: nonfiction picture book


“It all started quietly, like a conversation with Joe DiMaggio himself.”

From the publisher:

“In the summer of 1941, Yankee center fielder Joe DiMaggio and his favorite bat, Betsy Ann, begin the longest hitting streak in baseball history. But when Betsy Ann goes missing, will DiMaggio keep hitting? Set on the brink of World War II, this is a spellbinding account of a sports story that united the country and made DiMaggio a hero, at a time when one was profoundly needed. Barb Rosenstock’s action-packed text and Terry Widener’s powerful illustrations capture DiMaggio’s drive as well as his frustration. The book also includes headlines, quotes, stats, and a detailed bibliography.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, biography, sports

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I’m taking a course on picture book pacing right now. Pacing, speeding up and slowing down the reader to build tension, is something I really struggle with in my own writing. To help, I’ve been studying pacing by reading LOTS and LOTS of nonfiction picture books. Though I love all of Barb Rosenstock’s books, this is perhaps the best I’ve seen when it comes to pacing. She uses vivid verbs, as well as repetition. The word “streak” is used throughout, printed in red, like the crowd’s chant. Sometimes, Rosenstock repeats the word three times in a row for more emphasis: “streak, streak, streak.” Rosenstock also uses numbers to help build tension, driving the reader forward, as in “28, 29, 30 games.” All in all, this book is a dramatic read.


You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

PPBF: The Poppy Lady

With fall upon us, it’s time to hit the books again — the Perfect Picture Books, that is.


AUTHOR: Barbara Walsh

ILLUSTRATOR: Layne Johnson

PUBLICATION INFO: Calkins Creek, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59078-754-0

SOURCE: library


GENRE: nonfiction picture book biography


“Moina Belle Michael looked forward to summer vacation when she returned home from her third year of boarding school in 1885.”

From the publisher:

“When American soldiers entered World War I, Moina Belle Michael, a schoolteacher from Georgia, knew she had to act. Some of the soldiers were her students and friends. Almost single-handedly, Moina worked to establish the red poppy as the symbol to honor and remember soldiers. And she devoted the rest of her life to making sure the symbol would last forever. Thanks to her hard work, that symbol remains strong today. Author Barbara Elizabeth Walsh and artist Layne Johnson worked with experts, primary documents, and Moina’s great-nieces to better understand Moina’s determination to honor the war veterans.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, biography

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I’ve used this book as a mentor text to help me shape a “slice of life” picture book biography I’m writing. Walsh’s use of a prologue to give readers a glimpse into Moina Belle’s girlhood is an effective technique for this type of biography. Walsh uses rhetorical questions and a repetitive phrase drives the pacing and page turns. Finally, Walsh has let Moina Belle’s voice shine through by incorporating her quotes throughout the main text. But this book isn’t just a must-read for writers. My seven-year-old snatched it out of the book return pile. He gives it two thumbs up too!

As a bonus part of the book’s proceeds go to the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple®, to help children of the U.S. military.


  • A teacher’s guide is available through Walsh’s Web site.
  • BBC One has a children’s World War I Web site with age-appropriate materials.
  • Veterans’ Day is Nov. 11th. Why not find a way to honor a veteran or active service member. Children can write letters to soldiers and send them through A Million Thanks or send packages through Any Soldier.

You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!