Dav Pilkey signs books for two children at the library

A Supa Epic Afternoon With Dav Pilkey

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Dav Pilkey signs books for two children at the library
Dav Pilkey at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh this past weekend, with my kids telling jokes.

First things first: if you are near one of the five remaining stops on Dav Pilkey’s Supa Epic Tour o’Fun (mostly in California), think you might want to go, and your venue has limited seating, stop reading this and go pre-order your tickets now. I’ve attended other events at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in Pittsburgh, and often bought my tickets at the door—this time I pre-ordered, and good thing I did, as they sold out days ahead of time.

This is rock-star levels of excitement. That’s the first thing I thought of in the auditorium this weekend: this is like a rock concert. With more children than the average rock concert. Captain Underpants and Dog Man (in large, inflatable costumes) entertained the crowd as we poured in (apparently Dog Man did some pretty impressive gymnastics, but I missed that part), in front of a slide show (with Flip-o-rama style animation) set to popular music.

As we entered, each child was given a draw-your-own-comic-book packet (with stickers!), a bookmark, and a superhero cape that said, “Reading Gives You Superpowers!” (I was given a bookmark, too.) Most of the audience, including my daughter, put their capes on right away, adding to the festive atmosphere. My son was wearing a Superman shirt, which seemed perfect, but he didn’t want to wear the cape. I was wearing my Super Librarian shirt, which was even more perfect, so I put it on instead.

Two pics side by side of people wearing "Reading Gives You Superpowers!" capes
“Reading Gives You Superpowers!” cape from the back, with pre-show slideshow in the background; me being Super Librarian.

Then it was time for the MAIN EVENT. Almost. First a couple of organizers of the event thanked a bunch of people and spoke about the importance of such events and of libraries and other educational institutions, and for the most part the children in the audience waited patiently. THEN the man came out, utterly unassuming in the face of that adoring crowd.

I’d of course been looking forward to seeing Dav Pilkey myself because I’ve been a bit in love with him for seventeen years. But I was also looking forward to my kids seeing him because I knew his childhood story, and I knew my kids could relate. Like Dav, we all have ADHD. My son has been having a particularly rough time of it—“why do I have to be like this?”—so to see this successful adult explain how he went through the very same challenges, and even asked that very same question, certainly couldn’t do him harm. When he said, “so there I was, a kid with ADHD and lots of hair,” I had to reach out and ruffle the lots of hair of my kid fitting the same description. Just in case he didn’t make the connection himself.

But it was my daughter who, during the presentation, said under her breath, “Story of my life!” Her ADHD hasn’t really given her problems in school yet, so I asked what she meant. It turned out it was the “drawing comics during class” part that really stuck out for her. I’m pretty sure she formally decided she would be a cartoonist when she grew up during the course of the afternoon.

Even if you can’t personally relate, Pilkey’s presentation is a lot of fun. He delivers his story in a gentle, friendly deadpan, while most of the humor comes through the little movie of accompanying claymation and drawings projected behind him. There was a lot of laughter. I’m not sure the audience breathed between one burst of laughter to the next. Maybe they picked up on the importance of Practice and Persistence from the presentation, too, if they weren’t laughing too hard.

Then he turned off the projector and brought out an easel pad, explaining that this was the point where the audience usually asked the author questions, but this time, he would ask the questions and the audience would answer, winning a goodie bag and a drawing related to the question. He drew each drawing live, as he asked the questions, and told everyone not to yell out the answers so individual people could guess. That completely did not happen. The exact opposite happened. In the end, the helper passing out prizes would just position herself in a different section of the auditorium for each question, and just randomly pick a kid with the right answer from whichever section she was in.

My kids were briefly bummed after that. “I didn’t win a prize,” the boy pouted. “I didn’t want the prize bag, I just wanted a drawing,” his budding cartoonist sister said.

They couldn’t stay bummed for long. At that point the whole crowd paraded over to the library and swarmed the children’s section. Each family had been given a number so we wouldn’t have to wait in a huge signing line. We were number 166, so we had a bit of a wait before we had to line up, so we joined the crowd buying books, eating snacks, actually using the library as a library (gasp!) and hanging out with the large inflatable Captain Underpants and Dog Man.

Person in a Dog Man inflatable costume greets two kids
My kids are actually more excited about Dog Man than Captain Underpants.

We bought the latest Dog Man book, A Tale of Two Kitties, (oh yeah, we also learned the fourth Dog Man book will be out at the end of the year!) and started reading it out loud to each other while we waited. For some reason, all the books the bookstore partnering with the library brought to sell at the book signing were already pre-signed. So I guess you could take such a book up to be personalized, except the directions for the signing clearly stated that he could do “autographs only,” to keep the line moving. So I’m really not sure what people who had not brought books from home were supposed to do at the signing. We did bring the first two Dog Man books from home. But it might be that having that pre-signed Tale of Two Kitties was the only reason my daughter got away with what she most wanted from the event.

“Can you please draw Li’l Petey for me?” she asked Mr. Pilkey when we finally arrived at his signing table. “Well, I’m not supposed to do this,” he said, taking the book and drawing a quick Li’l Petey head beside his pre-signed signature in probably less time than it took him to actually sign his signature, “so don’t show anybody. Quick, hide that!” My daughter clutched the book quickly to her chest and darted her eyes furtively.

I didn’t tell you this, either. *more furtive eye darting*

Then she told him the joke she’d made up in the waiting line: “What’s Petey‘s favorite kind of book? A CATalog!” He looked like he was about to guess before she spat out the answer, then hit the table and said, “That’s great.”

My son didn’t say much beyond thank you. But me? This was the moment I’ve been freaking out about! The efficiency of the sign-and-go line made me wonder how to say anything to him at all. Definitely couldn’t hug him. I stood awkwardly watching my kids interact with him, and he kept glancing up at me, as if he could tell I wanted to say something, or maybe he thought I was a creeper, or maybe I was standing in the wrong place, or maybe—and this actually is quite likely—he just liked my Super Librarian shirt. Finally as my kids started walking away I dodged forward, held out my hand, and said, “I just wanted to say I’m a huge fan, myself, and it’s great to meet you.” I’m not even sure what he said back, but I did get to shake his hand, and that was satisfying.

Until I was walking away, and then I thought, You know, I really wanted to tell him that I swear I used to tell other kids that underwear wasn’t funny when I was a kid. Or that I’ve written two articles* about him. Or I even forgot to thank him for being a role model for kids with ADHD. Or….

Well, I did shake hands with Dav Pilkey this weekend, so that’s all right then. I got to meet one of my heroes and not be disappointed in him!

As I dropped my son off at school this morning, and not for the first time over the past day, I said, “Remember, whenever you feel frustrated trying to focus today, think of Dav Pilkey!” He rolled his eyes at me. But he probably will, anyway.

Girl in "Reading Gives You Superpowers" cape poses in front of an outdoor sculpture, her brother looks embarrassed.
My daughter took every opportunity to pose like a superhero in her cape the rest of the day. This annoyed her brother.

*This makes three.

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