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Hilarious But Horrible Attitudes: A Wimpy Kid’s Diary Review

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the first in a growing series of fictional comics from Jeff Kinney. In the book, we collect episodes from a year in the tragicomic life of the book’s protagonist, Greg Heffley, presented in the form of a diary (Heffley: “First of all, let me get something straight: this is a DIARY, not a diary”). . The book is driven not by an unfolding plot per se, but rather by its sequential format. A handwritten typeface, printed on lined paper (like a journal), is mixed with illustrative bullets on each page.

Heffley is a pre-adolescent high school student who is generally dissatisfied with his lot in life: he is caught between a spoiled younger brother and an older brother who regularly victimizes him with pranks; he is surrounded by “jerks” at school, including, apparently, his socially oblivious “best friend”, Rowley; he is not popular; his parents have no idea; and his passion for violent video games is thwarted at every turn.

As is probably already apparent from this minimal description, the soul of the book, and what I take to be its central subjective appeal, is a particularly childish kind of downbeat humor. Think Beavis and Butthead with the volume slightly turned down. Throughout the book, I howled at Heffley’s scathing observations about high school, chuckled at his self-delusion, laughed at his rudeness, or laughed at his low regard for those around him.

For example, near the beginning of the book, Heffley sums up high school with the following comment: “Let me just say for the record that I think high school is the dumbest idea ever invented. There are kids like me who haven’t hit their growth spurt.” he still gets mixed up with these bouncers who need to shave twice a day. And then they wonder why bullying is such a big problem in high school” (p. 3). Tweens will find a lot to relate to and laugh about in this book; I’m not surprised it’s so popular.

Now the flip side: despite being genuinely fun, the book has very little development value. Or, more precisely, I think the book may be detrimental to development. The central problem is that Kinney has us laughing at the bad things Heffley says and does, and his deceitful self-serving attitudes.

For example, when skinny Heffley realizes he doesn’t have a chance in wrestling class, he sets up a makeshift bench and invites Rowley to be his weightlifting spotter. He has Rowley go first, to see if he’s as committed to “turning up the volume” as Heffley is, and then proceeds to trap Rowley under the bar for a while, to help him “get serious about working out.” “. As Rowley goes home, his feelings (if not his body) clearly hurt, Heffley concludes (without having lifted the bar once!) that Rowley is letting him down, and that Rowley isn’t that dedicated to lifting weights. As the. is.

Now of course I laughed at this (I’m no saint), but the question is, should I laugh at it? More importantly, should tweens, whose moral character is in relatively early stages of formation, laugh about it? My concern here is that the book only reinforces, and subtly leads us to approve, a certain self-centered negativity that should be purged from tweens, not anchored deeper through pleasurable, repeated reinforcement.

Okay, okay, I’ve heard the objections: “Isn’t this just puritanical paranoia? What’s wrong with a little frivolous fun? Couldn’t the book be like junk food, I mean, it’s okay once in a while but not as a constant diet? ?” Answer: There’s nothing wrong with frivolous fun. The problem is, reading books like this isn’t frivolous fun. Think of it this way: As a parent, would you like your child to be best friends with Greg Heffley? My The answer is clearly, “No.” Why? Because our friends influence who we become, the decisions we make, the attitudes we adopt, in short, our character, and I don’t want my children to have Heffley’s character. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that characters in books we enjoy become our friends for a season, and perhaps for a long and influential season if the book is part of a series (hence the lack of food analogy). junk – if you buy this book for your kids, they will “eat” it all the time).

For example, my wife and I have been reading the Harry Potter series aloud for the past seven months (I know, I know… geek alert!), and when we miss a few days, we start to miss Harry. . , Ron and Hermione, the central characters. In fact, I know people who have become more emotionally attached to fictional characters than to the real people in their lives. I’ll have more to say about this connection between story and character development in a future article, but for now suffice it to say that I think fictional characters can have a great influence on our character, particularly if we identify with and enjoy them. . .

Now, to be fair, Heffley is rarely rewarded for his attitudes and actions (although the reader is). Plus, I think Kinney’s portrayal of Heffley is meant to make us see through Heffley’s high school bluster of denials to glimpses of a decent kid. For example, the title of the book alone tells us not to take Heffley at face value. Despite Heffley’s protests to the contrary, the title states that this IS a journal and that he IS a weak kid (he likes home economics class to yell out loud!). Also, it seems to be Kinney’s intention that we sometimes see Heffley produce good things, for example, he helps his little brother despite having a bad attitude about it, and he stumbles by giving Rowley a big gift. of Christmas.

The problem is that producing good results despite horrible attitudes and intentions is not an ethic worth teaching; rather it is a twisted brand of moral consequentialism. Heffley’s stinky attitude and his frequently stinky actions far outweigh his accidental kindness. I do not require my fictional characters to be morally impeccable: my beloved Harry, Ron, and Hermione clearly misbehave frequently. In fact, we would never identify with fictional characters if they were perfect, since we are not perfect. However, with Heffley, the scales tip too much towards negativity and evil to recommend Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This book will make kids go back.

Final quibble: “This book can help non-readers, particularly children, to become readers.” While I agree that non-readers might as well read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the question is, what exactly does that accomplish? I am skeptical that such a book will help any child graduate from literature that is actually worth reading. In my opinion, this book is no better than a funny but corrosive TV show in that regard (although it is considerably more creative than most TV shows). If we want to help non-readers become readers, an extremely worthwhile goal, we need to do better than Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

In short, I do not recommend Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

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