15 Dec 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I suppose The Diary of a Wimpy Kid's position at number 1 on on the New York Times Bestseller List (for children’s series books) after 99 weeks means that I am one of very few parents who has not let my child read these books. Even though she is desperate to do so. I decided after only a cursory glance through a young friend's copy that books with cartoon figures peeing on each other did not constitute the standard of literature I had set as a minimum for my daughter. The "Rawley and me" grammar did not endear me either - kids have trouble enough speaking correctly without seeing the incorrect construct written. Personally I hate it when kids say real quick instead of really quickly, for example. Greg, the wimpy kid, says it quite often. He also uses words that we don't use in our peaceful home, with a sprinkling of blasphemy to boot. His brother, Broderick takes it further, saying things that I find totally unacceptable, and he reads things that Jemimah doesn't even know exist. No, this was not a book for me.

When the movie was released earlier this year, Jemimah commented that she supposed I wouldn't let her see that either, and at first I agreed. Only later, I relented. After all, I rationalised, it is not poor spoken grammar that worries me, it is seeing it in print that is my issue. Similarly, they couldn't really show bodily functions on the big screen...could they? And anyhow, I would be there with her, and we could discuss it afterwards if need be.

So we went the see The Diary of a Wimpy Kid - the movie last night.

And now I can discuss with you the reasons that I do not like these books from a position of knowledge instead of one of secondhand hearsay. Because I still don't.

Here's why.

First, the synopsis. Greg Heffley, the wimpy kid, is trying to make it through his first year of middle school. At the moment he estimates that he is currently somewhere between the 52nd and 53rd most popular. By the end of the year he wants to make the 'Favourites' page of the middle school year book. Greg's not really wimpy, but he does have a few obstacles to overcome in order to fulfill his ambition. See, the problem is, Greg is average. And prepubescent.

Let me just say for the record I think middle school is the dumbest idea ever invented. You got kids like me who haven't hit their growth spurt yet mixed in with these gorillas who need to shave twice a day.

Greg does have some strengths, but they're not the ones that get you recognised in middle school (which seems to be about the same as the first years of our Aussie High School, in case you're wondering.) He has a beautiful soprano voice, for example. Only being chosen to play Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz won't make you popular. Being small won't make Greg a good wrestler either, especially since it's real wrestling, not the fake stuff he's seen on TV. He knows all the tricks for the fake sort, but they don't help when you're put in the Chihuahua division and even the girls are Bull Dogs.

Greg is bullied by his obnoxious hoon of a brother, Roderick. The teenagers bully the younger kids. Greg in turn bullies his best friend, the nerdish but likable and loyal, Rowley. His parents show favouritism to his younger brother, Manny, who is generally depicted sitting on a potty at the kitchen table making...well...the noises one should make while sitting on a potty. Toilet humour abounds in this film.

Greg is looking for an easy way to become one of the cool kids. He doesn't want to work for anything and so he achieves nothing. And loses his best friend in the process.

It is amazing how somebody will stop being your loyal playmate when you constantly treat them as a punching bag. When Greg lets Rowley be punished for something Greg did, it is the last straw. As indeed it would be. Only, why is this funny? Should kids laugh at objectionable displays of moral character at the age of eight when they're still struggling to develop their own standards? I don't think so.

Greg Heffley is the hero of The Wimpy Kid, but he's no hero of mine. He is a bad influence on his friends, and I would not like my daughter playing with him. He loves violent computer games. He does not respect his parents. He is a liar and he is manipulating. He desire for popularity is meaningless and he will stop at nothing to get there. He is not a good friend. Watching his behaviour on the big screen was bad enough. I do not want my daughter identifying with this character through the pages of a book. Greg Heffley is a horrible boy.

Clearly I am in a minority here. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid has sold more than 37 million copies. Parents rave over the fact that their boys will read nothing else. I am sure I will get hate mail over this. But I don't care. (Well, actually, I do care - I want to be popular too...)

I do know that I am glad that I haven't allowed Jemimah to read this series. I am not particularly sorry that I allowed her to see the film. I think books create longer term relationships than films - lifelong friends in some cases - and I don't think this movie makes much impression at all. For what it is worth, Jemimah thought it was okay, but not that funny. She is also happy to know what all the hype is about and to know who the characters are.

I would love to hear what you have to say. Have you read the books? Did you like them? What about the film? Am I unreasonable? Do tell, only do keep yourself nice. Please.

By the way, the kids peeing on each other scene did make it into the film after all. I kid you not.


  1. We have neither read nor seen this nor had I heard of it before yesterday!
    Sometimes it pays to be a weird, unsocialized home schooler :-)

  2. We have not read it nor will we. I thank you 1000x's for the review though as I was going only on intuition.

    There is a term in the children's publishing world called "Poop Fiction" referring to potty-humour books that are oh-so popular. A shame it even exists.

    I just finished an excellent article in World by Janie B. Cheaney. It ends (my wording, as my husband has made off with the magazine) with the sentiment that Christians are usually known for what they are against, followed by a prayer that we would be known for what we are FOR, namely love, kindness, self-control, etc.

    Your booklist to the left are excellent reminders.

  3. I'm with Ruby - hadn't heard of this (the movie or the books) prior to reading your post. Ugh. I agree with you about the whole incorrect syntax/grammar thing. I like my kids to speak (and write) correctly...not that they do all the time! :) Are you serious? The peeing scene was in the movie?? So gross. I also get why you let Jemimah see it though. Only this month I bought the first and second books in the Harry Potter series. My 12 year old son wanted to know what the craze is all about - and whether he's missing out on something. Well I read them first, talked with him and then he read them - in two days! We both thought they were fun with a good plot. However Sam thought they were so simply written (dumbed down) that they were almost boring ( He has read LOTR several times and like Jemimah is fed good literature) I am open to him watching the first film too, but we've agreed he won't watch or read any others in the series. Mel x

  4. Jeanne, I really appreciate your review on these books and I agree with you 100%! My children don't even know about it and I am happy with that, they don't need to! It's just trashy! xxx

  5. Never'eardovit ~ & don't want to. Won't read, won't watch & certainly won't feel deprived. But then I think we've dumbed kids down so far in so many cases they're not capable of reading much more. I think Star can do LOTR next next for English. She likes the movies & I don't have to worry about content.

  6. Jeanne, I enjoyed reading your book and film review. I had not heard of this book before today! I can't believe they put that scene in the movie! No thanks, not for us!

  7. I flicked through the book when I saw it on a shelf and instantly disliked it ... repetitious, one-tracked, and not inspiring or edifying in any way I could see. There are other 'popular' authors I'm happy to avoid like the plague. Great review!

  8. Thanks for that insight... I've seen my 8 yr old daughter pick those books up in the shops and look at me, (she hasnt read them yet), but they are everywhere at present. I havent had time to look into them myself, and had wondered what they are like. Your perspective would be very similar to mine I dare say, so Thanks for the reflection, you've saved me a heap of time and money on both the book n movie.

  9. Thanks for the review. It is good to hear specific reasons why you don't like it. I have seen Christian kids reading it and at times been tempted to let my son check the book out (it can be hard to find him something he is willing to read at the library). Now I am glad I never gave in.

  10. If you've lived thru American Middle School it's a totally "I can so relate" experience. [FYI--Middle school is usually grades 6--8 occasionally still 7-9 or only 7-8 and that is ages about 11/12--14/15 in our area--some areas a little younger] That said, until my kids were MUCH OLDER [one now 14 1/2 the other 16] I would have said "no" as well. This is not really a book for "little kids" as much as it for the survivors. Still, I've never heard so much soul-deep discussion of a movie or sharing of truly deep heartfelt messages of support than I did when my daughter & her friends watched the movie at a sleep over at our house. It was "been, there, done that SURVIVED--you can have the stupid tshirt."

    So--I'm on both sides on this one! But then, my then-homeschooled son became a reader because of the gosh-awful Captain Underpants.......twaddle if ever there was! [Unless you are 9 and hate reading!]

  11. DH bought "Diary of A Wimpy Kid" for ds, but he did NOT like it at all.

    However.... I feel that it can be difficult to find literature that is attractive to boys. I am re-reading "The Read Aloud Handbook" right now for ideas.

  12. I haven't read the books, nor seen the movie. After reading what you have to say, I'm certainly not rushing to do either.

    However, if my son were the target age, and very much wanted to read the book, I would most likely read it with him. I'd look for opportunities to discuss what makes the book work, what makes it enjoyable, what makes it realistic - or not.

    I have read books that are what I would describe as dummed down, and also sprinkled with put downs and gratuitous potty talk. I think it's sad that publishers and writers believe that is the way to get kids reading. BUT I do believe we all start somewhere, and most of us move on from the stages at which we start. My priority will no doubt always be to get kids reading, and hope they have the good sense to read widely and develop good taste in literature.

  13. We haven't read these. And, I was surprised to read a recommendation from the Bluedorns for these books. There are just too many other really great books to read.

  14. MUch to my my children's chagrin, we have not read them either or watched the movie. I think they are just awful after perusing through one. Thanks for the great review!

  15. My kids won't be reading it, either. Nor will they watch the movie. Although I have seen it, they haven't. The circles that we run in these days, my kids are pretty sheltered from pop culture. They only have one friend that knows anything about it, and they think she is a little weird for liking it. So, thankfully, we don't have a lot of peer pressure to combat.

  16. J's MOM: Here's my Listmania list--you can easily tell, I hope, which are boy-oriented books--also as you go down the list you get "older" YA titles.
    Also my "other" blog of 21st Century living books


    Living Books Blog


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...