Sunday, January 24, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

For our family book club at the library we usually focus on classic children's literature, but you can only read so much Roals Dahl and E.B. White before your head explodes. So we managed to scrap up enough copies of the book that has taken over juvenile literature.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

The story follows the adventures (and often the misadventures) of Greg Heffley, just starting middle school. Greg's mom is making him write a journal, to record his 'feelings.' He thinks this is lame, but is willing to do so, so that later when he's famous, he won't have to bother telling people about his early days. Everyday Greg write about the life of a regular 7th grader. Bullies, friends that don't understand what it takes to be popular, family that sabotages his every attempt, horrible classes and a constant grounding from his video games give Greg plenty to write about in what is definitely not a diary.

The amazing thing about Diary, is that it is hard proof that there will always be a demand for books.

Originally released in 2004, on the website (where Kinney was working as a game designer), as an attempt to get kids to visit the website during their summer break, the digital version of Diary was issued each entry one at a time, like a real journal or blog. Even with the success on a children's educational website, Kinney still didn't intend the book (which took almost 10 years to write) to be for kids. Instead he wanted to write a story that adults could look back on, like their own childhoods, with a sense of the irony of it all (think The Wonder Years and Calvin and Hobbs all rolled up in one with text in the middle).

Even with his story out there for the world to see digitally, demand for the story in traditional book form was so great that Kinney has been on the New York Times Best Seller list  for 41 weeks as of November 1, 2009 (that's just for the original book) and now is at the head of a phenomenon that has swept libraries, bookstores and schools around the world. Sequels, do-it-yourself diaries, movie deals, you name it and Wimpy Kid is alllllll over it.

 So, like many others, I had heard a great bit about the book (Kinney attributes it's success to word of mouth recommendations from one kid to another), and decided it was time to pick up a copy. Upon first flip through I was stoked! A book written in journal form, with faux handwriting and cute little comic illustrations through out. Awesome! It only took about 3 hours to read (this was at work, so that's 3 hours WITH actual working involved at the same time).

By the end I was amused but also a little confused... Greg is a horrible kid. I would say that he's evil, except he doesn't seem bright enough to be doing the mean things he does on purpose. At the time I didn't know the things I know now. That Kinney had meant the book for adults and as such skipped the obvious moral lessons and do-gooder quality that define most of the juvenile literature genre. But more than that, it took me a minute to think back to what life was REALLY like in middle school. We were all horrible little monsters, and we didn't even know it. Kinney makes Greg out to be THAT kid. You know, the everyday kid that we all were and knew, that often did the wrong things for the right reason, or even for the wrong reason, just because he didn't know any better. Greg is self-centered in a way that only children and adolescents can get away with. He's as horrible as any of us were. No wonder kids eat it up. I think it is this great honesty about Greg's less-than-ideal nature, combined with Kinney's refusal to talk down to kids in a way they are subconsciously expecting that has lead to it's great huge success.

Hopefully we will get to read the sequels for Family Book Club:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book

I'm 26 and still afraid of plagiarism. I got all of my info from:
The book... duh
The Wimpy Kid website
This article from The Washington Post
This article from The New York Time

*I'm part of the Amazon Affiliate program, all links lead there, please feel free to click :o)


Nicole Bonomini said...

I'm so glad to hear you actually liked these, Laura! So many booksellers at Borders are rather discouraged that the latest IR bestseller isn't a real book ... and that, yes, he isn't exactly the best role model. The few pages I've flipped through and read, I thought were cute.

Laura said...

Greg is a horrible character... he's a little monster. I think that's why kids like him. They are all little monsters. The book is funny either way, and the people who think it isn't a real book are dumb. Kids are reading it... they're BUYING it, so just go with it.

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