Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is huge and it’s only getting bigger. This past year it was made into a movie, effectively creating even more devotees. The fifth book in the series becomes available on November 9th and can be pre-ordered now. Although the book takes place in middle school, and is in fact most appropriate for those grades, the cartoon illustrations that are peppered throughout the book make it wildly appealing to kids as young as second grade. Both the content and the reading level are most likely not appropriate for children that young, but when they grab the book from the shelves they’re able to read the simple words above the cartoons and are convinced they could read the whole thing.

I feel like I should recuse myself from this because it’s just not my kind of book. As you saw from my reviews of the My Weird School series I don’t love books that are into calling things dumb and stupid. I’m also not really into bathroom humor. Then again, if I were a middle school boy, I would probably be very into these things. And yes, I meant to say boy. While this books might be funny to girls as well, as with the My Weird School books, girls are not portrayed favorably. Where this differs from My Weird School is that it is a lot more sophisticated. There is an actual plot, and the humor involves more than just I hate school and girls are stupid.

One of the things that I found bothered me is that Greg is just not a nice kid. I don’t mean that in a goody-two shoes kind of way, I mean that he really is pretty awful to the people around him. He throws apples at a girl hitting her in the face. He chases kindergartners with a worm and lets his best friend get in trouble for it, even though this means his best friend can’t be on the safety patrol anymore. He invents a game where he gets to try to knock his friend off a bike with a football, but he refuses to ever take a turn on the bike himself. He runs for class office, but runs a smear campaign. He destroys his little brother’s snowman. It’s his fault his grandmother’s house gets toilet papered on Halloween, but he doesn’t help clean up because he figures she’s retired and doesn’t have anything else to do. He also lies to his parents. Do all these things add up to big laughs with some kids? Absolutely. Personally though, I couldn’t get over what a selfish snot Greg was and how he didn’t ever seem to have remorse for anything he did (or enough remorse to try to change or fix things).

Also, for the first time, I’ve added a bathroom category below, since much of the humor in this book hinges on poop and pee.

A Possibility For:As with many books that bring in the laughs with slapstick violence and bathroom jokes, this is a possibility for boys that don’t love reading. It’s not an easy book, so it won’t work as well for struggling readers that don’t enjoy reading, unless you go as high as fifth and sixth grade.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – There is talk of “hot girls,” “cute butts” and kissing. Roderick is found with a magazine that features a girl in a bikini on the cover. Phys. Ed. required kids play shirts vs. skins.
Profanity – This book specializes in profanity “lite”.  Nothing is bad enough that they’d bleep it on television, but given that this book is often read by third graders, there is some vocabulary to be aware of:  “jerk” used 6 times, “stupid” used 5 times, “dumb” used 5 times, “morons” used 3 times, “screwing up/screw up” used 3 times, “heck” used twice, “idiot”, and a “Thank God”.
Bathroom Humor I’m kind of unsure where to put the references to “kissing butt” but here will have to do. Girls are called “stinky poos” twice. Roderick leaves dirty underwear on the kitchen table. At the zoo the children watch the animals go to the bathroom. A cartoon depicts a teacher pooping his pants. There are references to diaper rash, loaded diapers, farts, a kid who says juice when he has to use the bathroom. A few cartoons of people crossing their legs because they have to pee so badly. A student, Preston Mudd, has an award with his name posted on it as P. Mudd and all the kids make fun of him and call him Pee Mudd.
Death, Violence and Gore Much of the violence in this book occurs in cartoon form, where the main character will show he (or someone else) was hit, kicked, shoved, etc. by drawing it and adding the word kick, hit or shove. This occurs fairly often throughout the book. Greg throws apples at a girl breaking her glasses. He invents a game that is throwing a football at his best friend while his friend rides a bike and ends up causing his friend to break his arm. A kid is tripped a breaks his tooth. Older kids spray Greg and Roderick with fire extinguishers (this kind of bothers me because in the book the extinguishers are filled with water, which is certainly not the case in real life and this misinformation could cause trouble if children think it’s safe to duplicate this stunt.) Greg plays violent video games (although we aren’t told what the violence is). In cartoons drawn by the students a persons foot burns off after stepping in acid and you can see the bone, in another the cartoon character is decapitated.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – One student smokes a pack a day.
Frightening or Intense Things – None

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5 Responses to Diary of a Wimpy Kid

  1. stellacarolyn says:

    Wow, not a book I want to read. But I’m glad for your review so that I don’t have to read it- wait, a middle school kid smokes a pack a day?? WTF?

  2. Mrs. N says:

    I’m actually a judgmental enough person that I’ve told my students that this isn’t my kind of book. Months later one of them came up to me and to me and told me he understood why I didn’t like it, and that he didn’t feel really good about reading it. I wouldn’t expect a middle schooler to feel strange about it, but for a third grader there were definitely parts that he was just uncomfortable with.

    The pack a day isn’t a major part of the book, it’s mentioned exactly once about a character who wins the anti-smoking poster contest. The context is that it “ticks off” the main character that this guy won.

  3. P.L.W. says:

    Eeeeew. Sounds just nasty. I must agree with you; there is enough of this sort of bathroom humor all around that we (teachers/role models) certainly should not participate. I would NOT buy this for my library, just as I would not buy the MY Weird School series. To me, if kids want to lower their intelligence and parents want to let them- they can pay for it themselves.

  4. Mrs. N says:

    P.L.W. – Just to play devil’s advocate a little – I don’t oppose this book being available in libraries because I believe in access. I know you’re speaking as a school librarian when you say you wouldn’t be interested in it, but don’t you think kids should have access to books they’re interested in even if they’re not the ones we would choose? Also, aren’t school library budgets built from the taxpayer’s (and therefore parents) money? Aren’t they paying for it themselves? I’m not saying that we as professionals need to endorse the books or recommend them – I know I wouldn’t unless faced with a non-reader situation – but shouldn’t they be there?

    And no, I can’t really reconcile why I feel that as a teacher I have a greater right to censorship than a library. Any other librarians out there?

  5. laura says:

    This was interesting to read; my first grader and I watched the film adaptation on a long-haul flight a couple of months ago and it seems that the story was condensed (naturally) and cleaned up a little. I don’t recall all of the bathroom humour. Which I’ll take as a positive.

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