Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Another "Wimpy Kid" winner

It's easy to understand why kids love the mega-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney: the books really are hilarious. Sure, many kids also enjoy the "hybrid" format of the series, with an illustration on each page. But it's Kinney's intuitive understanding of middle schoolers, as well as his dead-pan humor and simple but expressive illustrations, that attract young readers by the millions, all over the world.

Jeff Kinney with Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley
 Today marks the release of Kinney's ninth and latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, titled The Long Haul. I'm happy to report that the new book lives up to the comic antics of the previous ones. In fact, Kinney may actually have upped the humor quotient in this book, which details a comically-disastrous family vacation. Any kid who has ever gone on a family road trip will identity with the trials and tribulations of protagonist Greg Heffley, who not only has to spend much of the vacation squashed in the back of the family van amid suitcases, but also ends up sleeping one night in a smelly motel room closet. The next morning, Greg discovers, to his horror, that he was sleeping next to his brother Roderick's stinky shoes.

Things get even worse when Greg yells at a couple of kids making a ruckus in the motel's hot tub and incurs the wrath of their hulking father. Fortunately, Greg is able to race back into his room without the father noticing which room it is. But, as is the way in real life sometimes, the Heffleys and the hulking father's family keep bumping into each other along the road, something that strikes terror into Greg's heart. His parents, of course, don't have a clue, since Greg didn't tell them anything about the situation.

The Heffley family packs for vacation.
 In fact, the well-meaning but clueless parents are a huge part of the humor in the series. For parents who want a comic window into the world of middle schoolers, the Wimpy Kid books are a great place to start. While Kinney vastly exaggerates things for humorous effect and while Greg Heffley is definitely not a person to emulate (note to overly-worried adults: young readers get that Greg isn't a role model!), parents with any sense of humor will get a laugh out of the way Greg and his friends see the adults in their life.

Personally, I plead guilty to being all too much like Greg's Mom, who is depicted as a dedicated reader of Family Frolic  magazine (clearly a take-off on my favorite parenting periodical, Family Fun). It's Mrs. Heffley who initiates the road trip in The Long Haul, inspired by the cover of the latest Family Frolic magazine, with its bold statement that "Adventure Awaits! Take the Ultimate Road Trip!" As Greg says: "If I had to guess, I'd say that 90 percent of everything we do as a family comes from ideas Mom gets from that magazine. And then I saw the latest issue, I knew it was gonna get Mom's wheels turning."

Other "fun" ideas that Mrs. Heffley gets from Family Frolic magazine include eschewing fast-food meals on the road and preparing, ahead of time, special "Mommy Meals" for Greg and his siblings. Instead of the typical "cheap plastic toys," as Mrs. Heffley calls them, the prizes in her "Mommy Meals" are math flash cards. Mrs. Heffley also insists on having everyone listen to Spanish language CDs during the drive, and she's also brought along a bag of family games to play in the car. Of course, things don't exactly work out the way Family Frolic suggests, and as the Heffley family's vacation veers towards disaster, even Mrs. Heffley agrees that it's time to "switch things up a little." I won't give away the ending, but suffice to say that it involves such disparate elements as Greg forgetting about a crucial key, some important Spanish language help from baby brother Manny, and a pet pig.

A less-than-perfect motel room.
Kids may or may not get Kinney's take-off on Family Fun magazine. But they will get a total hoot out of his lampooning of adults' distaste for the hugely-popular Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey. In The Long Haul, Greg talks about his love for a series called Underpants Bandits, written by Mik Davies. As Greg describes the series: "The Underpants Bandits books are about these two kids named Bryce and Brody who go back in time and steal underwear from famous people so they can put the underpants in a museum. I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, but the books are actually pretty funny."

While Greg and his friends devour the Underpants Bandits books, parents protest that the books don't belong in the school library, and the entire series is removed from the shelves. Greg and his friends are not pleased: "I hope these adults are happy when a whole generation of boys grow up not knowing how to read." And he adds: "When the school banned the Underpants Bandits books, it just made them more popular than EVER. Some boys snuck in copies from home and passed them to OTHER kids." The illustration just under that statement further highlights the humor, showing boys surreptitiously passing books to each other in bathroom stalls.

Like the Captain Underpants series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books aren't beloved by adults, mainly because many grown-ups don't believe that a book with an illustration on every page is proper reading for kids. All too many adults subscribe to the idea that, "Once kids learn to read, they don't need pictures anymore." Kids clearly don't agree with that sentiment and that's why there are currently 150 million copies of Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in print worldwide, and why The Long Haul has a 5.5 million-copy first printing -- the biggest of any book for either kids or adults -- this year. We've got 15 copies of the book at our library, and I expect they'll be all checked out 15 minutes after we put them out on display.

End Notes: Big thanks to Jason Wells and Emily Dowdell of Abrams Books for providing the art for this blog post.

1 comment:

  1. Very gud book as expected from jeff kinney all the wimpy fans and all adult and children should read this really a HILARIOUS