Diary of a Wimpy Kid
a novel in cartoons
Written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney
Amulet Books, 2007.

I split my working hours between a middle school and an elementary school. In both of these schools, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is insanely popular. In the elementary school, it is easily the most popular chapter book. Kids who "hate reading" have read all five books, and light up with a big smile when I ask them about it. They then start playing the 'cheese touch' game, which apparently involves poking at each other and crossing your fingers. I figured that I had better read the book.

Diary wasn't quite what I expected. For one thing, it is actually a 'diary of a troublemaker', not a wimpy kid. For another, it was actually pretty good. It is written as if it were a real diary journal, penned and heavily illustrated by a young boy, Gregory Heffley, who is just entering middle school. He writes about his struggles to become more popular, to take advantage of his friends, to get girls to notice him, and to play the system (both school and parental). It is, of course, written in the first person, and derives much of its humor from the fact that Gregory does not realize that he is actually quite a jerk.

There isn't much of a plot. It is basically a collection of short anecdotes about an 'average' kid. He tells of practical jokes his brother plays on him, ways he's found to get around his parents' rules, his plans to run for student government, dumb things his dad does, how taunting teenagers can backfire, and time and time again, how he manages to push around and abuse his best friend. It stays pretty close to issues that a normal kid would be focusing on daily (although in exaggerated form) and it is often stupid, silly, and/or gross (a lá Captain Underpants). This is exactly what young kids want, so I guess that makes this a good book.

Even better, this is a great book for kids who aren't yet enjoying reading. It is written in a large font, with double spacing between each paragraph, with frequent breaks for illustrations that are integral parts of the story. On average there is as much drawing on a page as there is text, giving plenty of rest breaks for the slow reader. The chapters are short, and the anecdotes are amusing. There are currently five books in the series, and no end in sight. This is exactly what a reluctant reader needs.

While this book is theoretically written for 11-year-olds, it is actually closer to an 8- to 9-year-old reading level (although some of the vocabulary might be a bit hard). The subject matter, on the other hand, is a bit more relevant for middle-schoolers. Apparently, this is the formula for a best seller...

Oh, apparently it was also made into some kind of a movie. Someone else can write about that.