Does Dogtastic Dogman develop independent reading and drawing? Or is there more to it?

The team behind the very successful Captain Underpants series (Harold and George) aka the fantastic Dav Pilkey are ostensibly the writers of this comic book series about a dog-cop and his crime fighting pals. My son, 8, has the entire collection – which he discovered after the Captain Underpants series oddly; my daughter, 6, has just discovered them as she transitions into longer books and into independent reading. Drawn in the authors’ inimitable style a comic style, they are quick and easy reads and well thumbed and giggled over in our household by multiple children.

Having lived with purile jokes, repeated ad infinitum toilet related gags and incredulous and improbable crime capers for the best part of 4 years and counting, I admit, I was both relieved and inwardly groaning when my 6 year old recently picked up the Dogman books. On the upside I was delighted that her independent reading was picking up a pace and to books which needed little by way of adult explanation. The downside being I’m no doubt living with all the above for another 4 years!

Dogtastic Dogman

Despite feeling like I have lived with Dogman/Captain Underpants for so many years, had it read to me in parts, had the jokes repeated endlessly, I finally plucked up the courage to read one in its entirety the other day. My expectation as an adult was low to be honest, and I’m happy to say, easily exceeded. I think the extracts I had had read to me and (hopefully) my more mature sense of humour resulted in me discounting the books as being akin to the Beano in tone and message. And yet, I continued to purchase them because they were such a popular read with all children visiting or living at our house, and prompted much discussion, shared giggles hastily denied as in jokes I wouldn’t understand, and toilet talk (mostly) when I was out of the room. Whilst I admired from afar the imagination and skill required to eek out a premise and shallow characters into a series of such length, I honestly didn’t expect much of interest or value from the books from an adult perspective.

I was wrong, so so wrong in my assumptions. I hold my hand up. I had pre-judged a silly premise and simplistic drawings and was well, not blown away, but certainly significantly surprised and pleased by what was contained within. The easy language means it’s accessible to early readers, and colourful pictures help to transition children from the larger short story books into cartoon style books. The silliness and the humour level are the many frequent hooks which keeps them reading. The storyline – yes – there is one – is surprisingly moralistic. The range of characters means that each kid reading can identify with at least one of them and feel a part of the team. Fliporamas (for the uninitiated – this entails quickly flapping 2 pages forward and back so you see a repeated action like someone being punched repeatedly or being bouncing in the air etc) add cartoon action to the pages. Winner.

A child’s perspective – by R, aged 6

Dogman books are great – I like it when Dogman is naughty like my dogs are and eats everything he shouldn’t. Lil’ Petey makes really bad jokes like Mummy says I do, they aren’t very funny. The songs make me laugh too, and I sing them to tunes I make up in my head. It’s usually Sarah Hat Off, the world’s greatest reporter, who saves the day, and I really like her. The Fliporamas are cool too because its like a Tom and Jerry cartoon when you do it really quick, bash, bash. The best thing is the How To Draw pages at the back so I can draw the characters myself!

As a new convert to the series, I now see there have been some surprising bonuses from having two children both reading the same series of books despite being 3 years apart and obviously of varying reading abilities. Not least because instead of the usual bickering, sometimes I’ll find them having little ‘in jokes’ related to something that happened in the books. Or having an actual conversation about the various merits of two books or what happened in one. More surprisingly, it has initiated critical analysis and thinking from both children to some degree (if you count “L do you think Petey will ever be good, like really good?” “No, his character is always trying but he thinks he’s bad but he’s always trying to do better” type of discussions!).

What is also appealing from a parental point of view is the repeated message throughout the books about trying to do the right thing, team work for success and playing to your strengths. These positive attributes are what elevates it from lengthy comic strip to novel.

A child’s perspective of the Dogman Series and more – by L, aged 8

The stories in Dogman always turn out well, in the end, and they are all different. Although the characters don’t change, their costumes do. Petey is always trying to be good, but theeeen he’s bad, but then he makes it good in the end. There’s some really funny jokes, same as in Captain Underpants. I also like watching the Captain Underpants TV shows and movie, as well as all the stuff you can get online to do featuring Dogman and Captain Underpants. I tried to draw a comic, using the same sort of ways Dav Pilkey does but it’s quite a challenge! I saw online Dav Pilkey likes to read the comics which kids draw so maybe someday I’ll send him one to say thanks for making the Dogman and Captain Underpants books!

There is a whole Dav Pilkey world (or should I say Planet?) out there, from Apps to websites to support the creative inclinations of children inspired by reading the books, not to mention the more traditional media such as the Captain Underpants film and TV series. Publishers Scholastic have done the sensible thing to try maximise the interest levels by creating wrap around social and online media to engage children further – having looked at a few areas however, I do feel they could do more than a few print offs and an out of date game app, it all feels a little neglected somehow. Dav Pilkeys own website effectively replicates a lot of the information on the Scholastic website, with slightly more information about the author. I can’t decide if I’m happy they haven’t gone too far down the merchandising route yet or not….

Overall, I have a new found appreciation for the unquestionable skills of Dav Pilkey in engaging his audience, and the many prompts to be creative drawing themselves. I’m delighted to discover that there are so many characters which children can identify with, and a moralistic ending neatly hidden within. So, to answer my own question, yes, it does more than just develop reading and drawing skills, it does inspire, and it does prompt critical discussion amongst children. I guess I’ll be heading down to the nearest book store for the next release then, and just try and endure the awful jokes being retold for the next few years! @scholastic #DavPilkey #DogMan

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