Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It Really Is What It's Cracked Up To Be

As a general rule, my tastes tend to go against the tide. I take no satisfaction from this. I wish I had loved the Harry Potter books, so I could have been part of that excitment. I wish I had loved the Spiderman movies. I wish I had loved the last two seasons of 24, instead of feeling as if I were Jack Bauer being tortured while I was watching the last one. I don't wish I had loved the Twilight books or Sex and the City because there are lines I won't cross, but the people who did love them sure had a good time, didn't they?

Thus I didn't rush to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney because my history with popular books suggested I was asking for trouble and disappointment. On top of everything else, it was a diary, something I think has been done to death in kidlit, and it uses a faux printing font. Every time I looked at it I was reminded of family member who told me about a book that "uses one of those handwriting fonts I detest." (Yes, we are a family that discusses fonts.)

In spite of all that, I am think I would now describe myself as a Wimpy Kid fan.

This book has so much to recommend it. It truly is kid-centered, focusing on real-life experiences both at school and home. It uses a voice that is both slightly wise/sophisticated and innocent at the same time. Our narrator is such a regular guy, which is kind of unique in a literary world filled with misunderstood geniuses and slacker outcasts. The plots of many kids' books rely upon their kid characters being unsupervised by their inattentive parents so that the kids can go off and do things. (This is, I guess, the twenty-first century equivalent of the nineteenth century dead parents--either way, the literary parents are out of the way so the kid characters can get on with the story.) But our wimpy kid isn't allowed to listen to CDs with parental warning labels. His friend isn't allowed to play violent video games. Both Dad and Mom have their eyes on Wimpy and his brothers and take action when action is required. The parents in this book are attentive, which is a reflection of what many of its child readers are experiencing in their lives. Not all children are left on their own the way so many are in books.

When Mom recognizes that something is troubling her wimpy kid, "She didn't try to pry and get all the details. All she said was that I should try to do the 'right thing,' because it's our choices that make us who we are." She's doing her job. After wimpy boy tosses and turns all night over his choice, does he make the right one, as he would in those improving kids' books I detest the way my young family member detests handwriting fonts? No! He does not! How cool is that?

He gets caught, and he never seems to totally get how he went wrong. But one of the beauties of this book is that its author trusts that his readers will.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a nice quick read with cartoons that don't illustrate but actually carry the story. Unenthusiastic readers as well as compulsive ones should enjoy it.

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