Diary of A Wimpy Kid has taken elementary and tween families by storm. My boys are too young for the book series, but I did watch the first movie and found it to be funny and laced with the insecure struggles of any kid coming of age. Indeed, I hated middle school except for the part about meeting my husband there.
Last week I got to hop on a phone interview with Wimpy Kid writer and creator Jeff Kinney. For as much publishing and big screen success as he’s had, it shocked me to find out that he was on his lunch break. He still works full time! As the creator of Poptropica.com, it’s no wonder that he loves his job--and that he maintains a clear commitment to kids.
Talk about a writer who commits. Kinney hawked his original 700-page tome to publishers for over two years without success, but continued writing and trying. Kinney originally aimed for adults, and when it was suggested that he chop the stories into smaller pieces and market to kids...well, he made it. Big time. To the tune of 42 million books sold + 2 movies to his credit.
The movie sequal, Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules (in theaters March 25), finds Greg Heffley beginning seventh grade. Greg and his older brother – and chief tormentor – Rodrick must deal with their parents’ misguided attempts to have them bond.
Although Greg is wimpy and nerdy, he still has a sense of self and courage through his wit. Many middle school boys look at Greg as a bit of a hero. What advice can you give these middle school boys in regards to bullying?
What I wasn't aware of in middle school kids these days is that there's this huge culture of secrecy--the worst thing you can be is a snitch. What I always tell kids is that silence is the bully's friend.
As far as self worth goes, nobody really looks back on their middle school years fondly and wishes they could be back in middle school. I always tell them that they just need to survive this period, and then things will get much better progressively through high school and into adulthood.
Do you think Greg and Rodrick will bond later as adults? Should parents force childhood bonding or just let things play out and not worry about arguments and bickering?
My brothers and I didn't get along through parts of our childhood. We are each others’ best friends now. So, I think there's hope. There's something else I've noticed with my children. I have an eight year old and a five year old. They bicker and get on each other's nerves, but they love each other. It's very plain to see that they care about each other. I'm not sure if that's something that we did or if it's something that's kind of come to them naturally. But, it's really a wonderful thing to see. Whatever differences they might have in high school and maybe earlier than that, it feels to me like the foundation is very strong and that they'll always be close. In my nuclear family, those are the only two kids we've got. They'll be the next generation and they'll carry the torch.
How do you respond to the parents who might say that Greg isn't necessarily the kid I want my children to hang out with, even in literary form?
For somebody to say that Greg is a bad kid or a rude kid, I don't quite agree with that. I would say that he's flawed. He's a kid whose life is being documented at a time that nobody would want their life documented.
I've come to find that kids have certain sophistication in the way that they read these books. They don't see Greg as a role model, but they might share his point of view from time to time. For example, as a kid I was not overly fond of the idea of having to take an open shower with my classmates after gym. So I used Greg as a megaphone to express that sentiment. I don't think that's a bad thing. Perhaps, it's a negative feeling that Greg has, but I don't think it's unreasonable in any sort of way. Every so often, Greg will throw his best friend under the bus, but that's what people do.
Somebody recently said to me that kids see Bart Simpson and they know not to act like Bart Simpson...We need to trust our kids to know the difference. Mark Twain, for example, wrote about these characters, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer who were not model citizens. But he trusted his readers to figure it out for themselves.
Is your idea of the parents a generality of what other kids see parents as or how you saw your parents?
The well meaning mom is a great archetype because she loves her kids but is sort of very eager to connect, and sometimes misses a key component. For example, I was reading the Washington Post a few months ago, and I saw an article that said, “Mother son book club sure to be a hit.” To me, that's like comic gold. You can't really get any better than that, because of course, the mothers organize this, and they have the best intentions for their kids...
I had some fun with that in my own books where Mom creates the Reading is Fun Club and the boys all bring in their ideas on what legitimate reading is, which is a video game guide and a crossword puzzle book and that sort of thing. Then, the mother brings in Little Women and Old Yeller and books like those.
Most moms aren't that extreme. But, it's fun. I love moms and I love it when they sort of get it slightly wrong.
Since you started out looking at Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a book for adults, is it different now when you're thinking of going forward in the series? Have you had to change a little bit of what you were going to write so that it's for the younger audience?
When I found out that my books were going to be published as a kids' series I was a little bit shocked. I thought, boy, what am I going to have to change. I looked back over my work, and I barely had to change anything. I realized that my sensibilities are very G rated, anyway.
As I'm writing now, my greatest fear is losing my touch...Sometimes I think this joke's not good enough. My next thought is, but kids will like it. That’s when I have to pull myself back and say that's a slippery slope. I still try to write with an adult audience in mind or maybe myself in mind. I try to keep the work to a high standard because I think that kids will meet you at that level and that you don't have to write down to children.
Jeff, what is the wimpiest thing you've ever done?
The wimpiest thing I've ever done is documented in the second book and in the second movie, which is that I was on the swim team and I didn't want to practice. And so, every day, I'd ask my coach in the first few minutes of practice if I could go to the bathroom. I would go into the bathroom, freeze my tail off and wrap myself in toilet paper to prevent hypothermia.
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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules opens in theaters March 25. If you haven’t read the books, check out Amazon for those, too. You won’t be sorry.
Leave a comment telling us the Wimpiest Thing You Ever Did and you could win this awesome prize pack (valued at $55)! Prize pack includes Zoo Wee Mama card game, Cheese Touch board game, Wimpy Kid action figure and 200-piece puzzle. Giveaways open to US Mailing Addresses Only. Giveaway courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Drawing will be held on Friday, March 25 @ 2pm EST.
Editor's Update: "Sharon" is the prize pack winner. Congratulations & thanks for all of your very "wimpy" comments!!
Disclosure: FOX 's PR people asked me to conduct this interview with Jeff Kinney. I haven't seen the sequel movie yet, but enjoyed the first one. I didn't receive any compensation for this interview and my head, heart and opinions are my own.