Middle school is the dumbest idea ever invented,” says Kinney’s hero, the 11-year-old Greg Heffley. And he goes on to explain: “You’ve got kids like who haven’t hit their growth spurt yet mixed in with these gorillas who need to shave twice a day. And then they wonder why bullying is such a big problem in middle school.”
Greg is not exactly the boy who you, as parents, are going to like your son or daughter to be associated with or even read about. But what if you were 10 years old? Get the idea? If you are looking for a hero who is really likeable throughout, Greg is not the one. He gets into trouble more often than not. And his solutions to get around problems are not always clean or correct.
Computer programmer, game developer and cartoonist Jeff Kinney’s book is a “journal” that is crisply written. Like all effective journals, the incidents are chalked out in a short, though not necessarily sweet, format. The illustrations, by themselves, are worth a separate book.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, in fact, appeared first as a Web comic-book on Funbrain.com, the children’s website from Pearson Education, in 2004. Last year, it was made into a book.
Greg is “wimpy”. He is addicted to video games, trying all kinds of tricks to keep playing. He gets bullied by the seniors in school — though he thinks nothing of taunting the seniors from a safe place. When it comes to theatre, all he gets is a one-line part. Greg is not a loser. But he wants to take the easier way out. Life at home is not simple either.
His younger brother Manny, who often gets into Greg’s hair, is the apple of his parents’ eye. There’s nothing Greg can do to change the status. Elder brother Rodrick is the star — with a rock band of his own, though Greg doesn’t think much of him. His best friend is Rowley. Greg, by his own reckoning, is the 52nd or 53rd most popular kid in school, while Rowley hovers around 150th.
He is the only one Greg has some sort of control over and he treats him badly most of the time, unless he has to go to Rowley’s house to play games on the computer. So what makes this a good book for your child?
For one, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is excruciatingly funny. Though the selfish streak in Greg is predominant, he manages to make amends towards the end of the book. There is an underlying message for children who, more often than not, try to take the easy way out when faced with an obstacle. Don’t go for the short-cut. It invariably backfires.
In one instance, in a class quiz on state capitals, Greg finds a place next to the map of the US, expecting a cakewalk. But his classmates scuttle his plans by asking for its removal. And that is just one of the milder examples of Greg’s cunning.
The book also works on the reader’s mind. Wouldn’t it be fun if every child started his, or her, own journal? Kinney’s illustrations hit on the spot. Wouldn’t it be great if every child, in addition to maintaining a journal, also doodled?
The only shortcoming of this book is that it is more of a book for boys than girls. But there are sequels — Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules and Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3: The Last Straw — coming up. Wait and watch.
The writer is editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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