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.
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.