Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A Children’s Book Series Overview
Article by: Samuel Goodrich
Series by: Jeff Kinney
Number of Books: 14
Every generation of readers has a book or series that becomes a phenomenon. For kids growing up in the mid 2000’s, that series was Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Since 2006, this book series has become one of the most successful children’s book series in the world, with over 200 million copies produced around the world. There have also been four film adaptations, and the Wimpy Kid series has been included in the popular browser game Poptopica.
While the series has seen success since its initial release, it didn’t start out as a strictly “children’s book series”. Author Jeff Kinney initially wanted to be a cartoonist, and even ran a popular comic strip called Igdoof in the University of Maryland student newspaper. After graduating in the 90’s, Kinney was unable to get his comic strip into wider syndication, and soon began to brainstorm new ideas.
In 1998, Kinney came up with the initial idea for Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He originally envisioned the series as an adult-oriented book that tapped into the nostalgia of growing up in middle school. As the series was aimed at adults, Kinney didn’t worry about finding morals or lessons in his story ideas, rather he tried to tap into the misguided adventures children always seem to get up to during middle school.
After spending years working on the idea, Kinney brought the idea to the website Funbrain in 2004, where he published daily installments. These online editions became extremely popular, and as of 2009 have received over 20 million views.
Soon after this almost instant success, Kinney received a book deal to publish the stories in print. The first volume, simply titled Diary of a Wimpy Kid was released in 2007 and was immediately met with high sales.
The series follows middle schooler Greg Heffley and his misadventures as he navigates through the awkward period known as adolescence. Heffley has an older brother Rodrick who picks on him, a loving mother, and a father trying his best to understand his son. Greg also has a best friend named Rowley, an equally awkward boy with a naive and active attitude.
Each book retains a similar format, both in style and pacing. The books are written like a diary entry, with Greg narrating his thoughts and actions. The reader gets to see exactly what Greg thinks through his writing, but also through the crude drawings from Kinney. These stick figures give life to the hilarious situations Greg finds himself in.
Every chapter focuses on a different story or event in Greg’s life, as he recounts what happened to him that day. This can range from fights with his brother, embarrassing things Rowley did at school, or Greg’s general complaints about life as a middle schooler.
After the initial book became a huge success, Kinney began dedicating himself to the series full time. Since 2007, a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book has come out at least once a year. And each time a new book releases, they dominate the New York Times and Amazon best seller lists.
As the series has gotten more popular over the years, parents and teachers have noticed how Greg’s diaries have gotten kids excited about reading. Similar to series like Captain Underpants or Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid’s easy-going narration and simple drawings engage students, and according to some, offers them a relatable look at their own experiences.
According to Dr. Joshua Sparrow, a child psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, these books can help parents get a better idea of how their children think during this chaotic time in their lives.
“It captures what a child is able to get and what’s beyond their reach, and how you have to adjust your expectations because they are still a work in progress” Dr. Sparrow said.
For Kinney, he believes the power of his stories comes from the fact that there is no moral.
“Greg really does think he’s done the right thing, and thinks he’s learned his lesson. You’re expecting at any moment that an adult is going to set things straight, but none ever does” said Kinney.
While Kinney and many others see the lack of lessons as a strength, many other parents and teachers, believe this aspect is harmful to children. These groups often complain not only about Greg’s lack of morals and learning, but also about the language used, like “jerk”, “dork” and “hot girl.”