Jeff Kinney, author of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’ shares his book picks for average readers
When author Jeff Kinney started writing the « Diary of a Wimpy Kid » series over 15 years ago, he set out to create a comic that would resonate with adults and live in the humor section of bookstores.
« I’m really glad I didn’t know I was writing for children, because I think often when an adult writes a children’s book, they start with the lesson in mind. And so the focus of the book becomes the lesson, » Kinney recalled in a recent interview with CNN. « I focus on humor and I focus on things that would make me laugh. And I think that’s part of the secret sauce of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’.
As it turns out, Kinney’s « secret sauce » chronicling the awkward, hilarious, and highly relatable college life of seventh-grader Greg Heffley has become hugely popular with young readers. « Diary of a Wimpy Kid » has sold more than 275 million copies, according to its publisher, with book number 17 in the series, « Diper Överlöde, » due out October 25.
“Greg is a wimp. Usually it means something like a weak physique, but it can also just mean someone who isn’t that efficient. And I think Greg feels that,” Kinney said. “If you look at him on the cover of the first book, you know everything you need to know about Greg. He feels like he carries the weight of the world on that backpack he’s carrying.”
Kinney has stated that he views Greg more as a cartoon character than a literary character. With that, he explained, comes a commitment to consistency with his audience.
« When you have a cartoon character, it’s a promise to the reader that they won’t go away and change or evolve all that much. They’re recognizable, » Kinney said. children grow up with my books, of course, but it’s very comforting to know that the story continues…these books have been an integral part of the lives of many young people for a very long time. It’s pretty cool to think that you are part of the fabric years of growing people.
Exposing children to a wide range of books is something Kinney enjoys, both as an author and as co-founder of the independent bookstore An Improbable Story in Plainville, Massachusetts, which he owns with his wife. .
Asked about a recent cultural decision to ban various books from school and public libraries, Kinney cited a letter to Congress signed by him and more than a thousand other authors, written by two-time Newbery Award winner Christina Soontornvat. Honor: « ‘Reading stories that reflect the diversity of our world builds empathy and respect for one’s humanity.
« Representation isn’t just a buzzword, » Kinney added. « It’s essential. Sometimes it’s essential for a child’s long-term survival. I think we should all make sure our children have different kinds of perspectives because it makes us better as people and makes us better as a country.
With that goal in mind, here are five books for middle school readers recommended by Kinney:
« The Door of No Return » by Kwame Alexander
In this story-driven novel, a sudden loss sends 11-year-old Kofi Offin on a « harrowing journey across land and sea, and far from all he loves, » reads the description of the story by the editor.
« Class act: newcomer,by Jerry Craft
A graphic novel with heart and humor, eighth grader Drew Ellis is one of the few kids of color in a prestigious private school. As social pressures mount, « Will Drew find a way to bridge the gap so he and his friends can truly accept each other? And most importantly, will he finally be able to accept each other? » asks the synopsis of the editor.
« Three Keys » by Kelly Yang
Sequel to the award-winning novel « Front Desk, » sixth-grade student Mia faces new challenges at school and at home in her family’s Calivista Motel. « But if anyone can find the key to getting through turbulent times, » reads the author’s description, « it’s Mia Tang! »
« The last last day of summer », by Lamar Giles
A magical story with imagination and heroism about two adventurous cousins who wish for an extended summer and accidentally freeze time. According to the publisher’s synopsis, the boys learn that « the secrets hidden between the seconds, minutes, and hours aren’t quite the endless fun they expected! »
« Boys will be human » by Justin Baldoni
A guide to building self-esteem for boys ages 11 and up, producer, actor and author Baldoni explores social and emotional learning around confidence, courage, strength and masculinity. « This book isn’t about learning the rules of the boys’ club, » reads one tagline, « it’s about UNLEARNING them. »