Monday, February 13, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Titles: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (#1); Rodrick Rules (#2); Last Straw (#3); Dog Days (#4);Ugly Truth (#5); Cabin Fever (#6); Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It- Yourself Book

Author: Jeff Kinney

Rating: D/F (0 stars out of 3 possible)
Not Recommended

Audience: 5th Grade and up

I usually try to read 2 or 3 books of a series before I write a review. In this case, I read the original Diary of a Wimpy Kid/Greg Heffley's Journal and have decided to make a snap judgment against it, thus avoiding the torture of reading others in the series.

Sorry I could not find any redeeming value in the book. I could try to justify it given all the best-seller status, Hollywood movie, getting kids reading arguments, but the evidence just isn't there.

It is disappointing to read all the parents on Amazon gush about how much their kids love this series, as if that is the only criteria for reading. Well, children love candy. Children love mud. Children love television. Children love staying up late. That is why children have parents. Someone needs to help children discern the best from the good, and the good from the c**p. (Pardon my vernacular.)

Now, if it was a simple argument of, "don't kids deserve some fun in their reading" I would say, yes, absolutely. No one reads classics all the time. Everyone needs some recreational reading and everyone needs to change genres from time to time. The problem with this series is that it fails on so many levels. It offers a flat story line and no real vocabulary. Language and grammar fail because, of course, it's a 6th grader's diary. Those things could be forgiven, because, of course, it's a 6th grader's diary, if only it were funny! It is not funny or clever. (I think my daughter and I smirked twice.) The pictures are ugly (yes, I know, it's a 6th grader's diary).

But the worst part is serious: Greg is a lousy, dishonest friend. He mishandles his Safety Patrol responsibilities and lets his friend Rowley take the blame. Throughout the rest of the book he remains oblivious to his greed and selfishness, never tells the truth about the situation, and never apologizes. Greg makes a small sacrifice for Rowley at the end, but by that time it seemed too little, too late to actually be considered redeeming. He just wasn't the kind of role model my kids need. Naturally, a book of this type can also be predicted to stereotype parents. As you might guess, the dad is clueless and the mom alternates between nag and embarrassment.

What's a parent to do? First of all, we need to start early when it comes to training our kids how to read and what to read. Here's a big hint: If the book is about a middle-schooler, don't be buying it for your third grader! (Do you want your third grader hanging out at the local middle-school?) We're all the time complaining our kids are growing up too fast, but too often, we're the ones pushing them into media for which they're under-aged. Did you get your preschoolers some PG movies for Christmas? ("But they like it!" I don't care if they "like it." You're the parent!) Do you let your junior high kid watch The Bachelor with you? Meanwhile, do you complain that the schools expose your kids to information they're not ready for? Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem, parent?!

Second idea: if your kid really wants to read a particular book, take some time to read it first. Or read it together. Have a discussion about whether or not the material fits in with what your family stands for. Be honest about what's funny and why, and then verbalize whether or not it's really appropriate. We do this all the time at my house: "That sure looked funny." "Yeah, but we wouldn't want to do it to each other, would we?" Acknowledge it. Then de-program it.

Third idea: let them read it. Just don't validate it by buying them the box-set for their birthday. I'm not naive. Obviously our kids reach the age where they read all kinds of stuff we're unaware of. We don't have to compound the problem by advertising it.

Fourth option: find some really good recreational reading for your family. If reading this cartoon was a big victory for your child, I wouldn't be bragging about it. Instead, I would continue to move that child forward and buy him or her some Tintin. Further, Calvin and Hobbes is a better role model for our kids than Greg Heffley. Calvin uses real vocabulary, is into science, has a robust imagination, and suffers consequences, plus the strip is well-drawn. Henry Huggins may sound dated, but his problems are still contemporary and his solutions are clever and funny. The Geronimo Stilton series is a good option for younger readers (ages 7-8-9) who are looking for a cartoon-ish novel. Also consider Bad Kitty. For kids who like unusual formats for their books, see the review for Regarding the Fountain.

Parents, if you're in the habit of reading and watching garbage, clean up your act. Raising kids is a full time job and you don't need to shoot yourself in the foot by trying to hide (or not hide) your double standards. You'll have plenty of time to waste on garbage after your kids grow up. If you want to advertise garbage to your kids, don't complain about their language and attitude. And don't complain that they learned it all at school!

Finally, don't brag about how much your kid reads, when all they're reading is a glorified comic book. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is over 200 "pages" long, but I read it during my daughter's 60min gymnastics class. My 5th grade daughter read it over my shoulder and was similarly disappointed.

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