To kids that love the incredibly popular Captain Underpants and Dog Man series of books, author/illustrator Dav Pilkey is like Tom Clancy, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling—a true celebrity in his field. His funny and engaging stories and graphics have coaxed millions of reluctant readers to enjoy books. He’s been lauded by critics, winning several awards including the prestigious Caldecott Honor Award, and his books have been turned into a Netflix series, a movie and musical. His newest Dog Man book, just out from Scholastic, has an incredible first printing of 5 million books. We chatted with Pilkey as he drove to the airport for the next step on the Dog Man “Do Good” Book Tour, which is not only sharing the news about the latest Pilkey creation, but attempting to start a national wave of good deeds.
Congratulations on the new book! How did you come up with this character and storyline?
It’s the seventh in the series and it’s a continuing story of a dog and a cat with a strange relationship. This cat used to be the bad guy and is trying to be better and improve himself.
Always a good message! Your books are so popular with reluctant readers. Why do you think that is?
One of the things that both Captain Underpants and Dog Man have in common are there are a lot of illustrations. Kids seem to love the artwork and identify with the stories and characters.
Can you talk a little bit about how growing up with ADHD and dyslexia spurred your career?
When I was in the second grade I was diagnosed with dyslexia and with what they know call ADHD. My teacher didn’t know what to do with me because I was so disruptive and she just sent me to the hallway. I didn’t want my friends to think of me as a bad kid so I started drawing and making stories, and that’s how I kept a connection with my classmates.
What advice would you give to parents who have kids who are struggling with reading?
I was identifying reading with something negative, a punishment. So my mom started taking me to the library every week and she let me choose whatever I wanted—as long as I read it. There was no judgement whatsoever on what I chose. I would read comics like Snoopy…the panels would break up the text…or Mad magazine. Reading things like that made me realize reading was fun.
That’s a great idea! Can you tell me about the “Do Good” part of your tour?
It really came from the kids. I mentioned before that Petey the cat is trying to be a better cat and reform himself. The kids really latched onto that and that surprised us. They were always talking about it and that lead us to the whole Do Good campaign, and inspired the new book. We’re encouraging kids to not only be good but get out there and do good.
Wonderful! On these tours, you entertain thousands of kids. What’s the key to reading aloud and making it engaging?
I think to have fun with it as an adult. Take on the voice and characteristic of the character and ham it up. The kids will get into it more. I think it’s great to see their parents reading, too. Kids want to model your behavior. If you can read together or they can see you reading, that’s a great thing.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the next Dog Man book, out December 10th. It’s a continuation of Petey’s journey. He’s trying to be a good father and dealing with his own father coming back into this life. The stories are still funny but there is a lot of emotion there.
Anything else you want to share with The Local Moms Network?
My mom was the person who really changed everything for me. She not only helped with my reading but she helped with my creativity. My teachers sometimes tore up my comics and my mom and dad started commissioning comic books with me, just for them. That made a huge difference in my life. Every time I would finish a comic they would sit down and read them. To have that rapport, particularly with my mom, was so important to me. Moms are so powerful and the influence they have over their children is incredible.