Sunday, March 22, 2009

Diary of A Wimpy Kid + Visiting Your Local Library = Kids Off The Couch

Move over wizards and vampires, there's a wimpy kid sitting on top of the bestseller list. Part comic book, part graphic novel, the Diary of a Wimpy Kidseries by Jeff Kinney has wrangled reluctant readers and been found, dog-eared, on the nightstands of girls and boys alike. Why? It's just so darned funny! Kinney's main character Greg Heffley faces his very ordinary days at middle school with an attitude that kids find reassuring, but by telling the story through stick figures in his diary, this hapless nerdball wins our hearts. Got an annoying little brother? So does Greg. Think what your parents say is pretty ridiculous? Greg is right there with you, except that he knows how to spin it into a joke. We love any book that gets kids reading, so whether yours have locked onto a favorite character or are searching for the next good yarn, it's always helpful to drop in on a Public Library. Ours love to bring stacks home at a time, and the reluctant spender in us loves that borrowing costs only pennies -- except for those pesky late fees! So whether your kids go wimpy or find another character that speaks to them, here's hoping they get lost between the pages. Click here for more on author Jeff Kinney, who still works as a web-designer even though he's one of the country's bestselling authors.

1 comment:

Aaron Mead said...

While I agree that Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a funny book, I'm actually pretty worried about it as something that shapes the character of children. The central problem is that Kinney has us laughing at—and so wanting more of, and implicitly approving of—the mean things Heffley says and does, and his self-serving attitudes. The question is, should tweens—whose moral character is in relatively early stages of formation—be laughing at these things? My worry here is that the book just reinforces, and subtly leads us to approve of, a certain self-centered negativity that ought to be purged of pre-teens, not anchored all the more deeply via repeated and pleasurable reinforcement.

Okay, okay, I hear the objections already: “Isn’t this just puritanical paranoia? What’s wrong with a little frivolous fun? Couldn’t the book just be like junk food, i.e., okay once in while but not as one’s steady diet?” Reply: there is nothing wrong with frivolous fun. The problem is, reading books like this isn’t frivolous fun. Think of it this way: as a parent, would you like your son to be best friends with Greg Heffley? My answer is clearly, “No.” Why? Because our friends influence who we become, the choices we make, the attitudes we take—in short, our character—and I do not want my kids to have Heffley’s character. And I don’t think it is a reach to say that the characters in books we enjoy become our friends for a season—and perhaps for a long and influential season if the book is one in a series. (Hence the disanalogy with junk food: if you buy this book for your kids, they will “eat” it all the time.) Indeed, I know people who have become more emotionally attached to fictional characters than they are to the real people in their lives. So, while it is funny, I think we also need to consider whether it is good for children.

Final objection: “This book can help non-readers—particularly boys—to become readers.” While I agree that non-readers may well read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the question is, what exactly does that accomplish? I’m skeptical that such a book is going to help any child graduate to literature that is actually worth reading. By my lights, this book is no better than a funny but corrosive TV show in that respect (though it is considerably more creative than most TV shows). If we want to help non-readers to become readers—an extremely worthwhile goal—we need to do better than Diary of a Wimpy Kid.