Dav Pilkey, cartoonist and author of the award-winning children’s book Captain Underpants and Dog Man, was diagnosed with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a child. Back in the 1970s, it was quite challenging to cope with the disorders with limited resources available but his parents turned out to be extremely supportive in the journey.
“I was diagnosed as a second grader — this was back in the early 1970s — with what they called extreme hyperactivity. They did not have the term ADHD back in those days. But they did have the term dyslexia and I was also diagnosed around the same time with both of those,” the author told Indian Express while speaking as part of the podcast Difficult Conversations with Your Kids.
Dav believes his learning disorder was what eventually shaped him as a writer. “It was a great challenge for me but I look back to those early days and I am very grateful because I feel like my dyslexia and ADHD help me now as a writer. I feel like I am more aware of my readers, all different types of readers and they all have different abilities,” he expressed.
Talking about his parents support, Dav recalled, “They knew I was struggling…my teachers often did not have the resources to deal with my particular learning problems. They (my parents) created a very safe environment at home for me. So, when I came home from school, they created an environment that was very encouraging; they found out the things that I loved the best and at the time I loved making stories and drawing comics. So my parents commissioned comic books for me. They asked me if I would draw a whole brand new comic series for them.”
“The one other thing that really helped was that my mom started taking me to the library and every week she would let me pick up whatever books I wanted. I could pick out comics, books that were below my reading level and those I had already read many times. My mom thought that as long as I was choosing my own books, I would continue reading and she was right,” the author added. Among the books he read as a child were Peanuts comics, joke books and humour magazines.
Talking about the global appeal of Captain Underpants, he said, “I think children resonate with the themes of friendship. You see a lot of superhero stories and those are nice too but none of us can really fly and we do not have gigantic muscles and punch holes on walls. But we can all use our imagination and all be good friends.”
How have children’s books and readership evolved over the years? “There is a lot more graphic novel and comic books being published than they were even 10 years ago. That’s a good thing because not all children read or learn the same way. A lot of kids are visual learners and graphic novels are the perfect thing for readers like that…There is a lot more acceptance (today) among parents as their children are at least reading something,” he said.
What other comic books can children read? Dav suggested Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet, a graphic novel series.
Listen to the full episode here.