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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Summary

diary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney
Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney
Author: Jeff Kinney
Age Category: 9 to 12 +
Genre: Comic Juvenile Fiction

With the March 19th release date of the movie based on Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney fast approaching, I thought I would write a review of this madly popular book.  Although it was first published in 2007, it remains on the New York Times Bestseller List (for children’s series books) and has been there for 57 weeks (!).  In this review I will take a somewhat contrarian view of the book: I do not like it as much as it seems most everyone else does.  “Why,” you ask? Read on fair reader.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Summary

Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney is the first in a growing series by Jeff Kinney.  In the book we get collected episodes from a year in the tragicomic life of the book’s protagonist—Greg Heffley—presented in journal form (Heffley: “First of all, let me get something straight: This is a JOURNAL, not a diary”). The book is driven forward not by an unfolding plot line per se, but rather by its sequential format.  A hand-written type face, printed on lined paper (as in a journal), is mixed with illustrative cartoons on each page.

Heffley is a prepubescent middle-schooler who is generally dissatisfied with his lot in life: he is stuck between a spoiled younger brother and an older brother who regularly victimizes him with pranks; he is surrounded by “morons” at school, including, seemingly, his socially oblivious “best friend” Rowley; he is not popular; his parents are clueless; and his passion for violent video games is frustrated at every turn.

Subjective Appeal: Genuinely Hilarious

As is probably already evident from this minimal description, the soul of this juvenile fiction book—and what I take to be its central subjective appeal—is a particularly boyish brand of pessimistic humor. Think Beavis and Butthead with the volume turned down slightly. Throughout the book, I was either howling at Heffley’s scathing observations on middle school, snickering at the scope of his self-delusion, cackling at his crudeness, or laughing at his low regard for those around him.

For example, near the beginning of the book, Heffley sums up middle school with the following quip: “Let me just say for the record that I think middle school is the dumbest idea ever invented. You got kids like me 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” (p. 3). Tweens will find much to relate to and laugh at in this juvenile fiction book; I am not surprised it is so popular.

Developmental Value: Horrible Attitudes

Now the contrarian part: despite being genuinely funny, the book is very thin on developmental value.  Or, more precisely, I think the book may well be developmentally detrimental.  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 deluded self-serving attitudes.

For example, when the skinny Heffley realizes he doesn’t stand a chance in wrestling class, he rigs up a makeshift bench press and invites Rowley over to be his weight-lifting spotter. He makes Rowley go first—to see if he’s as committed to “bulking up” as Heffley is—and then proceeds to leave Rowley stuck for a while under the barbell, to help him “get serious about working out.” When Rowley goes home, with his feelings (if not his body) clearly hurt, Heffley concludes (without having lifted the barbell a single time himself!) that Rowley is letting him down, and that Rowley is just not as dedicated to lifting as he is.

Now, of course, I laughed at this (I’m no saint), but the question is, should I laugh at it?  More importantly, should tweens—whose moral character is in relatively early stages of formation—laugh at it? 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.

Puritanical Paranoia?

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 children’s 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 juvenile fiction book for your kids, they will “eat” it all the time.)

For example, my wife and I have been reading the Harry Potter juvenile fiction series aloud to each other for the past seven months (I know, I know…geek alert!), and when we miss a few days we actually begin to miss Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the central characters.  Indeed, I know people who have become more emotionally attached to fictional characters than they are to the real people in their lives. I will have more to say about this connection between story and character development in a future article, but for now suffice to say that I think fictional characters can exert a great deal of influence over our character, particularly if we identify with them and enjoy them.

Now, to be fair, Heffley is rarely outright rewarded for his attitudes and actions (though the reader is, in spades).  Moreover, I think Kinney’s portrayal of Heffley is meant to have us see through Heffley’s negative middle-school bluster to glimmers of a decent kid.  For example, the title of the book alone tells us that we are not to take Heffley at face value.  Despite Heffley’s protestations to the contrary, the title states that this IS a diary, and that he IS a wimpy kid (he likes home economics class for crying out loud!).  Moreover, it seems to be Kinney’s intent that we sometimes see Heffley produce good things—e.g., he helps his little brother despite having a bad attitude about it, and he stumbles into giving Rowley a great Christmas present.

The problem is, producing good results despite horrible attitudes and intentions is not an ethic worth teaching; rather it is some twisted brand of moral consequentialism.  Heffley’s stinky attitude, and his frequently stinky actions, far outweigh his accidental goodness.  I do not demand of my fictional characters that they be morally flawless: my beloved Harry, Ron, and Hermione, main characters in the Harry Potter juvenile fiction series, clearly misbehave frequently.  Indeed, we would never identify with fictional characters if they were perfect, since we aren’t perfect.  However, with Heffley the balance just tips too far toward negativity and badness for me to recommend Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney.  This book will make kids go backwards.

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 Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney, 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 Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney.

In sum, I do not recommend Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney; you will not find this book in our Children’s Books and Reviews online bookstore.  I’ll leave it to you to imagine my advice about the movie. =)   For a positive review of the juvenile fiction book Diary of a Wimpy Kid, click here.

Have you read Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Think differently about it than I do? Let’s discuss it in the comments!

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14 Comments

  1. Hi, I’ve just read your review of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” on amazon.co.uk and couldn’t agree more with you about the close relationship children have with the fictional characters who influenced them when they were younger. I have not read any of the Wimpy Kid books (yet) but the title reminds me of Sue Townsend’s “Adrian Mole” series which were all the rage when I was young(er!). My peers were allowed to read them but my wise parents didn’t approve of Adrian Mole at all.

    I would like to ask your advice about titles written in a similar format but with a perhaps more wholesome message as I import childrens books to be sold to Spanish parents, many of whom don’t speak English themselves. I have been asked for the Wimpy Kid books and know that the format would work well for children who perhaps don’t have a grasp of every word on the page. The illustrations are very useful at filling in the gaps. Plus these books are very popular in their Spanish translated versions (“El Diario de Greg”).

    I look forward to hearing from you,

    Dominique

    Thanks

  2. Aaron Mead says:

    Thanks so much for your feedback here, Dominique. Your work sounds very interesting!

    Unfortunately, I am not well-versed in the graphic novel genre for 9-12-year-olds; I tend to focus on standard juvenile and young adult novels in my reviews and thinking for that age group. If you would like recommendations on those sorts of books, I encourage you to browse our bookstore for the 9-12 years+ category; it is stocked with juvenile and young adult fiction that I think is great.

    So, since I don’t know as much about graphic novels, I refer you to this childrensbookreviews page, which may be helpful. I believe all the review links on the page are to graphic novels for 8-to-12-year-olds. Let me know what you find!

    All the best, and keep in touch.
    Aaron

  3. Brigid says:

    As a school librarian, I am ashamed to admit that I have yet to read any of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. (My excuse is that that I’ve had so many other good books to read instead.) Problem is, I just finished annual inventory, and, it appears that the three wimpy kid books are the top three books circulated at our library this year. As a result, I’ve added at least the first one to my list of summer reading. Parent comments have been similar to what you have said: funny, but not what I want my kid to read.

  4. Aaron Mead says:

    Thanks for the comment.

    Yes, it is the same at my local library: they are very popular with kids. I think this is a sad commentary on our culture…

  5. [...] laughing at the mean, self-centered actions and attitudes of the protagonist Greg Heffley (see my review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid). The trouble with provoking kids to laugh at bad actions, attitudes, and relationships, is that it [...]

  6. Diana Taylor says:

    I agree with you totally. I have a mildly autistic 9-year old boy who fell in love with this series at school when he was 8. His Learning Support teacher let me know it was one of the books that he would voluntarily read and that kept his interest, so I bought the whole 4-book series. I read it to him and my 7-year old (mentally gifted) each night and I point out how the behavior is bad and not to be taken as a example. I point out that people do not like Greg, he never gets the girl, and he is whiny, not happy. I try to point out how his bad attitude and behavior lead to his bad outcomes, albeit often more for others than him. It does disturb me that this series is so popular, but then I have been disturbed by popular culture’s violent movies and siblings insulting eachother on sit-coms all my life. I am torn, the boys LOVE the series. I mean LOVE, so that they beg me to read more. I think to a certain extent the bad-ness of Greg rolls off their shoulders. They laugh AT him, not with him.

  7. Aaron Mead says:

    Thanks for the comment Diana.

    It is really tough walking the line between being a good parent in this culture and not being a complete bummer to our children. I guess we just need to pick our proverbial battles and do our best with each judgment we have to make. Glad to hear that you are teaching as you read these; I think that’s a good approach if your kids are already super-attached to the books (we have some books like that in our home…).

    Anyway, keep up the good work, and thanks again for telling me about your experience.

  8. duane and eunice bietz says:

    We have a very difficult time with the correct use of English with our grandkids who are enamored with the books. The English “me and Rowley” is awful. The subject matter and the psychology of the books is bad enough without the terrible English usage.

  9. Aaron Mead says:

    Yep, just another reason to worry about the books. If a child is sophisticated enough to see that the bad usage is funny, then it might not be quite as worrying as the moral/psychological issues (sort of like Junie B. Jones’s funny English), but it still isn’t great. Thanks for the comment.

  10. [...] of the sensibility that adults should be aiming to cultivate in children.  As I noted in my review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I think Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books suffer from a similar defect: they encourage kids to revel [...]

  11. [...] have been my favorite punching bags in this respect.  For more of what I think about them see my review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, my review of The Adventures of Captain Underpants, or the prior article in this series, about [...]

  12. ahmad says:

    i love diary of a wimpy kid

  13. cassy says:

    me 2 freggly is very Funny

  14. vanessa says:

    diary of a wimpy kid is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo funny!

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