A major character in one of today’s most popular children’s book series was quietly outed last week. And unlike J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore bombshell, it happened with little fanfare or controversy.
Captain Underpants, the work of author-illustrator Dav Pilkey, is aimed squarely at the middle school set and follows the misadventures of George and Harold, best friends in a small-town fourth-grade class who inadvertently bring their comic-book creation to life.
Selling more than 70 million copies worldwide, the series is filled with silly puns, farcical hijinks and heaps of potty humor. Naturally kids love it. (Some grownups, not so much: The Captain Underpants books are routinely banned for being inappropriate and encouraging kids to disobey authority.)
The 12th installment in the series, Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, hit stores on August 25. In it, young George and Harold meet their future selves and their families:
“Old George, his wife and their kids, Meena and Nik, sat on the couch, while Old Harold, his husband, and their twins, Owen and Kei, plopped down on the giant beanbag chair.”
And that’s it.
Harold, as an adult, is matter-of-factly presented as gay without commentary. In children’s book publishing, this is still incredibly rare and refreshing. Unlike television where we’ve seen a boon of young LGBT people, such characters remain few and far between in kid’s lit.
And when they are included, their sexuality is typically an issue, with a capital “I.”
Some years back, I interviewed Arthur A. Levine, editor of his own imprint at Scholastic Books, about this very problem.
Referencing the groundbreaking book Heather Has Two Mommies, Levine said, “At this point, 20 years later, we get it. Heather already knows she has two moms. Now we need stories where Heather has lost her teddy bear and we see how her two moms help her.”
The hard part, he added, was finding books “that [just] happen to have gay and lesbian characters in them.”
Well, here’s one. And the fact that its a best-seller aimed at middle-schoolers makes it all the more significant.