NPR logo 'Diary Of A Wimpy Kid': Jeff Kinney Writes The Diary Of Every Kid

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'Diary Of A Wimpy Kid': Jeff Kinney Writes The Diary Of Every Kid

Unlike most literary depictions of childhood, Jeff Kinney's Diary Of A Wimpy Kid actually feels like the childhoods many of us remember. hide caption

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Unlike most literary depictions of childhood, Jeff Kinney's Diary Of A Wimpy Kid actually feels like the childhoods many of us remember.

Literary recollections of childhood seem to exist at extremes. In memoirs and fiction alike, privation is the rule, and the rare exception involves not comfort but outright danger or trauma. The Marches of Little Women obsess over silk yardage. The Ingallses live in a Little House on the Prairie ... except when they live in their covered wagon, or in what amounts to a sod hole. Harry Potter is an orphan who has to battle black magic just to get through the school year. Mary Karr gets molested by the babysitter. Augusten Burroughs lives in a funhouse. Stephen King's protagonists in It face off against a murderous clown, S.E. Hinton's characters get killed by the cops or ditched by their parents ... and this isn't even mentioning Anne Frank.

What's interesting about the hardships and travails of kiddie lit, though, isn't their bleakness per se, but the way it contrasts with our mutually-agreed-upon cultural conception of childhood as a time of golden innocence: sledding, trick-or-treating, and valuable lessons learned.

And what's interesting about Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is the way the daily frustrations of an acerbic, somewhat lazy and selfish middle-class kid, rendered as a stick figure, succeed as storytelling despite the absence of spell-casting, abuse, and mustache-twirling villains. Nobody is defeated; the diarist, Greg Heffley, never really learns anything. He doesn't have much of an arc. It works, though — not in spite of that, but because of it. It feels true.

A book for the ten-year-old and the thirty-year-old, after the jump...

It's also hilarious. Kinney is not above some cheap humor (Greg's older brother Rodrick's heavy-metal band is called "Löded Diper"), which is my favorite kind, and his illustration style is not exactly layered and complex, but his rendering of sound effects is expert. "Splish" (a tiny wave knocks over a sand castle and sends Greg screaming). "SLORK SLORK" (the dog gives himself a slurpy bath on Greg's pillow). "Fpoo!" (Greg's best friend, Rowley, spits out a piece of birthday cake). I obsess over how to render sounds in my own writing, so I admire Kinney's ear for "doink"s and "thwip"s.

Mostly, though, the