‘Captain Underpants’ author hands out hundreds of books at Williams Elementary – Inside NoVA

Dav Pilkey published his first “Captain Underpants” book two decades ago this year.

Yet as soon as he started quizzing hundreds of students at Mary Williams Elementary School about his characters at an Aug. 30 assembly, dozens upon dozens of hands shot up, answers at the ready.

The prolific children’s author, who’s penned 63 books in his career, sees a simple reason his work has such longevity.

“Underwear is very powerful,” Pilkey said. “Everyone thinks underwear is funny.”

But Pilkey swung by the Dumfries school to do more than just talk about undergarments. He spoke with more than 700 students — from first grade through fifth grade — about how he overcame his struggles with ADHD and dyslexia to become a successful illustrator and author, despite a long list of naysayers urging him to direct his energy elsewhere.

“Everyone told me, ‘You can’t spend the rest of your life writing silly books,’” Pilkey said. “But I was able to take my problems and turn them into stories.”

Pilkey followed up by sketching a series of his most famous characters — it only takes him 38 seconds to draw the eponymous character from his “Captain Underpants” books — and handing them out to students particularly well-versed in his work. He even showed off a few sketches for the first time from his newest book, to be released in December.

But he saved the biggest surprise for last — instead of simply giving away one signed copy of his latest book (which came out earlier this month) he’d brought enough for the entire school.

Teachers hid the boxes of books at the back of the school’s cafeteria, unveiling them with a flourish as the students erupted in squeals of joy.

“We just wanted to keep it a surprise,” said assistant principal Sharon Adams. “Our kindergarteners aren’t here yet because it’s so early in the year, but we’ll get them the rest of the books later, as well as anyone who wasn’t here today.”

Pilkey picked Williams Elementary for the visit and big giveaway with the help of his publisher, Scholastic. John Yotnakparian, one of the company’s representatives on hand at the event, said they landed on Williams due to the exemplary work of Adams and principal Lynmara Colon in pushing students to participate in Scholastic’s summer reading program.

“They’re always very aggressive in getting students reading during the summer, and this was Mr. Pilkey’s way of saying, ‘Thank you,’” Yotnakparian said.

He added that the school-wide book giveaway was entirely Pilkey’s own decision. Though Pilkey makes a habit of visiting other schools to promote similar reading programs, Yotnakparian said they planned this visit to Williams as a standalone trip.

“This was just the one stop,” Yotnakparian said. “This really was pretty exclusive.”


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