Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wimpy Kid #2 Is On Shelves Now!
In his latest book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, Jeff Kinney nearly put me into the hospital. That man is going to have serious medical bills to pay if this keeps up. I almost busted a gut laughing out loud and almost aspirated my Diet Dr Pepper on a few occasions. And, yes, I hold him completely responsible.
If not for Kinney’s dry wit, keen insight into the lives of elementary school boys (especially their rationalization for EVERYTHING), and fantastic line drawing on nearly every page, I wouldn’t have had so many close brushes with death in his latest book. But he put me there time and time again. Even when I thought I had things figured out (because I was once an elementary school boy with a wild imagination without a governor), Jeff would throw a wrinkle at me that I didn’t see coming. He ambushed me with regularity throughout the pages.
But it’s not just me that Jeff has his merciless sights on. He’s taking out EVERYBODY. My wife teaches elementary school and Jeff’s books are all the rage among the students. I have to admit to adding to that bonfire because I talk about his books all the time (and I have to admit that I haven’t quite become the responsible adult either, because I’ll rile my wife’s fourth grade class up and take my leave—taking her out to dinner usually gets me off the hook and my cool points go up with the kids).
Parents have become interested in the books and I’ve told them they need to keep up with what their kids are reading. After all, they’re supposed to be responsible parents. (I, myself, have been known to buy extra copies of Jeff’s books and give out as gifts – some parents have accused me of inciting subversion, but I point out that Jeff’s first book was a New York Times bestseller and that is a far better recommendation than I could ever make. Except the Times doesn’t give away Jeff’s books as gifts that I know of. That’s why they hold me more accountable.)
But when I recommend the books to parents, I issue a stern warning. I call it the PYP warning. I especially give it to pregnant mothers and people with weak bladders who read in public places. PYP is Pee Your Pants. The books are just that funny. You’re reading along, and the next thing you know, WHAM! -- you’re laughing so hard you’re peeing your pants.
The funniest thing about Jeff’s humor, and the life of his main character, Greg Heffley, is that everything in the book COULD BE COMPLETELY TRUE. Speaking from experience, a lot of what’s between those pages has been true. But I’m not going to incriminate myself now when I got away with those things all those years ago. And there should be some kind of time statute on most of them. I still don’t want my mom to know, however.
Greg is THE man when it comes to taking a boring day and turning it upside down. People who underestimate the creativity of a bored child are simply asking for trouble. Nuclear war pales by comparison.
And Greg has an excuse – or a rationalization – for everything he does. Worse than that, half the time I get sucked in and totally buy into his point of view. Because, upon occasion, that point of view has been mine as well (or at least my defense). That’s where Jeff’s magic truly lies: he’s never lost touch with his inner child. And boy, his wife must be mad and his kids must be terrified!
In this second book, I was totally blown away yet again. Greg is a middle kid, which means that his life is made miserable from both ends of the spectrum – from his older brother Rodrick and his younger brother Manny. Rodrick is the sulky teen with a band called Loded Diper. And their music stinks, so they’re appropriately named. Manny is three and gets into all of Greg’s stuff.
I love how Jeff sets something up in the books and continues to play off of it at appropriate times. His sense of pacing is fantastic. The work of “art” Manny creates out of toothpicks and aluminum foil is great, and I’ve seen that done, actually. Greg’s mom tells Greg he should keep it around and he does – until it impales Greg’s semi-best friend Rowley.
Another sequence in the book focuses on Greg’s ringleader abilities. Kids will follow anyone with a semi-great idea. Or at least one that will bring pain or embarrassment to another kid. See, Greg is NOT hero material. At least, not yet. He does show some potential, but it’s really far into the future.
One of those ideas involved making believe one of the other kids didn’t exist. Following Greg’s lead, the rest of the class pretends the kid doesn’t exist so much that Greg gets called into the principal’s office, then gets read the riot act by his parents.
I loved when Greg gets involved in the role-playing game Magic and Monsters and his mom becomes concerned. She decides to show up and play with them. And her rules don’t involve all the violence and bloodshed all the kids are used to enjoying. Worst of all, some of Greg’s friends start liking the way his mom plays!
Another instance is when the parents leave for a weekend trip and put Rodrick in charge. They’re no sooner gone than Rodrick is on the phone calling people over for a party. Madness ensues. A door gets painted with permanent marker. Rodrick gets Greg to help him change out doors so the parents don’t find out. Later, when they’re punished, Rodrick says he’s going to study the effects of decompression of the spine suffered by astronauts during prolonged weightlessness. He does this by sacking out on the couch and sleeping all the time while he’s grounded.
If you want, you can even read the books for free on the internet. Just go to http://www.funbrain.com to read them. One of the most interesting things about Jeff’s books is that they’re given away for free and STILL sold enough to make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
You see, Jeff wants everyone to read his books that wants to. However, kids want books they can hold in their hands, share with friends, and put on a shelf. Plus, it’s kind of hard to take your computer and internet along when you’re stuck in the car on a family trip or out with a parent at a doctor’s appointment or a shopping spree.
One of the best features about Jeff’s books after you put them in your kids’ hands is that you don’t have to worry about batteries going dead. They’re kid powered: fueled by imagination and driven by humor. They’re good for the environment. Except for that whole PYP warning.
Jeff’s books are hilarious. I just can’t recommend them enough. Call me subversive if you want.