The latest installment of Captain Underpants, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot, hits shelves on August 25, and to support it, Scholastic is kicking off a “heroic” marketing effort. The campaign surrounding the book’s release, “Reading Gives You Superpowers,” aims to transform reluctant readers into lifelong ones. Pilkey will hit the road for a five-week tour, ringing the NASDAQ bell on the book’s pub date; Scholastic will roll out marketing materials and a book trailer, as well as a six-foot inflatable Captain Underpants that will accompany Pilkey on his tour. The figure will also appear in Times Square on August 24, along with staffers who will be handing out stickers, temporary tattoos, and sample chapters.
But the substance behind the sales flash is close to Pilkey’s heart. “I had a great deal of trouble learning to read,” he told PW via email. “I was diagnosed with dyslexia, and I couldn’t seem to find anything in my library that I was particularly interested in reading. My librarian was not as insightful and understanding as the librarians I’ve met as a grown-up, and she would often get impatient and shove a book in my hands, saying things like, ‘Here! You’re a boy. Read this book about football!’ ”
When he discovered comics and humor magazines, Pilkey found his own reward in reading: laughter. “Reading gave me many superpowers,” he said. “I got the power of laughter, I got to travel to crazy new worlds where anything could happen, and my imagination – which is the greatest superpower of all – grew by leaps and bounds. But one of the superpowers I am most grateful for receiving is the power of inspiration. These comics and illustrated stories inspired me to make my own comics and stories.” His early self-made books, created from stapling sheets of paper together in second grade, were where many of Pilkey’s characters, including Captain Underpants, got their start.
Pilkey wants to share this enthusiasm with children everywhere. “I hear from many parents that Captain Underpants was the first series that their struggling readers wanted to read. To me, that’s very important: getting a kid to associate reading with FUN. That simple connection only needs to happen once, and it can inspire a lifetime of literacy.” So as part of the new campaign, Pilkey is hoping to inspire more lifelong readers on the tour: “Every kid who attends will walk (or fly?) away with their own superhero cape. I’ll sign books of course, and I will also talk about my challenges with dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Delightfulness). During my presentation, I show pictures and movies, then I do some drawing and give out prizes. My hope is that kids will get to experience all the fun of the world of Captain Underpants and be inspired by it too.”
Rachel Coun, executive marketing and brand director at Scholastic, attests to the broad and energetic reach of the campaign. “Dav has such an incredible connection with the books,” she said, noting that he’d be going to bookstores and libraries, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney’s new store, An Unlikely Story in Plainville, Mass. “Each bookstore will get a kit,” including the aforementioned cape and “large underpants for relay races and also just for great photo opportunities.” The six-foot inflatable Captain Underpants has made appearances BEA, ALA, New York Comic Con, and through Scholastic Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand, Pilkey will be going international on the tour. Pilkey will appear in other classrooms around the country via Skype on an ongoing basis.
“Dav has a great presentation,” said Pilkey’s longtime editor, Anamika Bhatnagar. “Based on his own struggles growing up, readers and teachers and librarians resonate with it.” Dav’s presentation features a slideshow of illustrations as he tells his story of starting out as a reluctant reader, where he addresses “how the things he liked to read were taken away, and how in letting your kids choose the books they want to read, they’ll find something they are interested in, and they’ll enjoy, and it will turn them into lifelong readers.”
Bhatnagar has worked with Pilkey for nearly 16 years. Even after all that time, however, she still gets excited when she receives a new manuscript from the author. “I know how kids feel when they go to the store to get a new book from him,” she said. “Usually I spend the next two hours laughing until I cry. I read it on the subway commuting, and people look at me like ‘what is wrong with that person?’ ”
Bhatnagar is also at work with Pilkey on his next project, a new series featuring Captain Underpants characters George and Harold in The Adventures of Dog-Man, which will launch in fall 2016. Pilkey has previewed chapters of the book while on the road, and chapters inspired by the books written by fans have already made their way to Scholastic. A movie adaptation of Captain Underpants is currently underway from DreamWorks Animation. Pilkey, however, has chosen not to be involved with the process. “Because the people working on the movie are so highly qualified, and I’m such a huge fan of their past projects, I don’t feel I need to be involved – I can just sit back and look forward to the movie coming out like everybody else.”
There’s plenty for fans to look forward to as Pilkey and the giant inflatable Captain Underpants hit the road this fall. When asked what superpower he would choose, Pilkey answered, “I really can’t think of any superpower that is better than reading. With reading, you’ve got them all. You can fly, you can time-travel, you can read minds, you can fight crime – anything is possible. Reading gives you the opportunity to expand your imagination, and live through the experiences, artistry, and knowledge of others. What could be better than that?”