To countless kids, he's the god who gave them Captain Underpants. For countless parents and teachers, he's a savior for his ability to get kids enthralled with reading. Pilkey, 46, first realized his knack for writing and drawing as a youngster. The story goes that he was deemed a constant troublemaker in elementary school; later he realized it was due to his having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. His teachers would send him out almost every day to sit at a desk in the school's hallway, and it was there he first began creating mischievous characters and zany superheroes. More than 30 years later, he's still at it. His Captain Underpants series has sold more than 1 million copies worldwide, and he's also the author of such bestselling books as Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot, Dog Breath (winner of the California Young Reader Medal), The Paperboy (a Caldecott Honor Book) and The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby. His latest book, Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers, was released by Scholastic last month.
What's on your nightstand?
The Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1, Reader's Edition. I read the more scholarly, original version a couple of years ago, and I have to say that the Reader's Edition is much more user friendly. It's a sweeping account of the life and opinions of America's greatest writer. It's hilarious and heartbreaking, wise and grouchy. It's the kind of book you'll want to read with a yellow highlighter. I can't wait for Volume 2.
When you had learning struggles in elementary school, what authors kept your attention?
The writers who captivated me the most were comic strip writers: Charles Schulz, Ernie Bushmiller and Dik Browne. I used to plop down on the floor every afternoon with our newspaper's funny pages. I didn't care much for reading, but I desperately wanted to figure out the jokes in each comic strip, so I happily perused the daily antics of Nancy, Sluggo, Charlie Brown, Hagar the Horrible and Heathcliff. For me, I think it was usually the combination of words and pictures that drew me in. I loved how the artwork complemented the writing, each telling part of the story. You really couldn't have one without the other.
When students tell you that they identify with your personal story in school, how do you encourage them?
I try to remind them that there are a lot of very successful people out there who didn't fit in in school. Leonardo da Vinci was dyslexic, Albert Einstein couldn't tie his own shoelaces, and Thomas Edison's teachers thought he was brain damaged. It's pretty empowering when kids realize that they have so much in common with such an exclusive group of successful misfits.
If you weren't an author and an illustrator, what would you be?
Probably an elementary school teacher.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer