I think that, for most of us readers, devouring books is a way of life. It’s why we writers do book reviews once a month here with Barrie. We talk about books, we live with books. For some of us, books are our best friends.
But we’re adults. We’ve had years to cultivate the love of reading. What prompts a young person to read? For some of us, we can remember exactly what book that opened our eyes to the power and rapture of reading. Others may have only a vague memory of some distant book in the past that was The One. Rarely, however, am I present at the creation as I was late last year when my boy picked up Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
I’ve been aware of these books from a distance. I saw them at bookstores and thought little of them. I wasn’t even tempted to thumb through one. But then my boy was loaned a copy of the first book and, soon, he was hounding me to find the second book. Read in four days. And then the third. Read in two days. By middle December, when my parents suggested that they could purchase books four and five for Christmas, I told them not to bother. He’ll be done before Christmas Eve. And he was.
When my boy was sick last month, I read part of Book 5 aloud to him and I found myself laughing out loud at many of the passages. Being the type of person I am, I told my boy that I’d read the books but I had to read them in order, starting with book one.
Most of y’all know the story of Greg Heffley, sixth grader. In an effort for him to get in touch with his feelings, his mom bought him a *journal*, not a diary, thank you very much. Yes, he knows that the word “diary” is printed on the cover, but that does not change the fact that he’s writing in a Journal. He hopes to use it in the future when he’s famous and all the reporters want to know what his childhood was like. Clearly, Greg is thinking ahead.
Through text entries and line art, author Kinney channels his inner middle-schooler. Greg has to put up with a tormenter of an older brother (Rodrick), a younger brother that can do no wrong in the eyes of his parents (Manny), and his parents who seem to want Greg to be, well, like them, the best that I can tell. Then there’s Rowley, his best friend. Mentally, he’s still a kid in elementary school, still wanting to “play” rather than “hang out,” and takes abuse at the hands of Greg throughout the book.
What comes through in the book (as well as the movie; yes, I’ve seen it, too) is a theme: being yourself is the only way to be. Greg tries and tries to be cool and get himself noticed--joins the wrestling team; submits cartoons for the school paper; becomes a member of the safety patrol. He usually fails miserably or, in a self-serving way, gets others in trouble. Rowley is comfortable just being himself, and he wins accolades. Greg can’t figure it out, the truth just skirting his consciousness even through the last sentence of the book.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is nothing without the illustrations. They make the book. There’s a sublimeness to the simple art in the same way as the illustrations in Ian Falconer’s Olivia books. Sure, the drawings are supposed to be made by a sixth grader, but there is so much more to them than pencil and paper. Even if you only looked at the pictures, you’ll get the story. But it’s the interplay of text and illustration that make this book special. And dang funny.
My boy likes to play library with his books. Like a good collector, he has all the Wimpy Kid books lined up on the shelf. Not coincidentally, there’s an empty space where book #2 should be. Um, gotta go now. I have another book to read...
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