When I interviewed Jeff Kinney two years ago, when he only had two best-selling “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books instead of four, he was absolutely charming with a group of New Hampshire elementary school kids.
And he was one of those rare celebrity interviews where I felt I wasn’t being timed with a stopwatch and that he genuinely enjoyed the conversation (versus it being publicist-mandated).
Now that the movie is out, you should first check out his middle school world, where “undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner and already shaving.”
I’m reading the books now to get a sense of what appeals to my 7-year-old son and most of his second grade peers. Interestingly enough, Kinney told me that he didn’t want his own kids to read his books until they turn 13 because of the heavy saturation of irreverence and cynicism.
You can read these doodle-illustrated books as quickly as comic books and some of the material does seem a bit too irreverent for an elementary schooler, but more in a Bart Simpson way than anything overtly sexual or violent. I admire the cleverness of the writing, which reminds me of a blend of 1970s Mad Magazine and Judy Blume’s “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.”
I’m not thrilled with Kinney’s total pacifist approach to bullying, but I do admire his efforts to get more boys to think that writing is cool.
“Start a journal,” he tells his fans. “It will give you a window into your own childhood when you become an adult — and will be one of your most valuable possessions.”
You can read my full Culture Schlock profile of Jeff Kinney to discover why he thinks 40 percent of his readership surprisingly comes from girls AND what he thinks of The Brady Bunch Doctrine.