If there was an “IT” book of 2008 in the school where I teach 5th grade, forget about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; it had to be Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Book orders could not send copies fast enough. Book stores could not restock their shelves quickly enough. Everywhere I turned I was met by a student with his or her nose buried in its pages. So naturally, I had to see what all the fuss was about.
Greg Heffley is your everyday, run-of-the-mill, middle school “wimp”. Sure, someday he’s going to amount to something big, but for now, he’s “stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons.” Greg’s journal, not “diary”, but “journal”, takes us through the hilarious events that make up Greg’s days in his first year of middle school. Lucky for us, whether it’s avoiding his older brother Rodrick, or abusing his best friend Rowley, Greg’s days are never short on laughs.
I can’t remember the last time I laughed this hard when reading a book. There are laughs on every page, literally. Greg’s mudslinging student council posters, Greg and Rowley’s failed attempt at a haunted house, the students’ wrestling unit in PE (“muscles are gross”), and Christmas time at the Heffley home. Situations like these that Greg finds himself in are comical enough, but it’s his voice and commentary that sets this book apart. Jeff Kinney has cleverly captured the inner workings of a middle school student, and because of this book’s popularity, it’s obvious that students connect with Greg.
However, that’s also what scares me about this book. I’m afraid that Kinney is too smart for his own good and without realizing it, has created a lovable character that advocates laziness and using your best friend for his family’s money and his video games. Beneath all the laughs, Greg is a deceitful, selfish, jerk of a boy and the fact that students relate to him so easily doesn’t sit well with me. I admit, I laughed hysterically at Kinney’s tongue-in-cheek irony, but I’m an adult. I can tell the difference between Greg the character being serious and Jeff the author being sarcastic. I’m not so sure all the kids reading this will be able to.
I’m torn though. This book is funny and relevant and I guess if children are excited about reading it, then who am I to complain. Any time children WANT to read, it’s a good thing, and I commend Kinney for this. He’s discovered a great medium to tell his stories. The pictures only add to the humor and the journal format makes for an easy read. I think most of my students would be able to distinguish between Greg’s selfish behavior and acceptable, respectful behavior, and if they don’t, eh . . . kids will be kids. Either way, I have a feeling that Kinney is going to be around for a while. I may be better off enjoying the laughs.