Some Parents Wary Of 'Wimpy Kid' Series

Not everybody is enthusiastic about the Wimpy Kid series. Some parents feel uneasy about their children identifying with a main character who is at times selfish and lazy, and whose hijinks often land him in trouble. Tanya Turek, a mother of three who works in the children's department of a Barnes and Noble, has blogged about the series.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now, Tanya Turek. She's a children's book blogger and mother of three, and she has a more exacting view of Jeff Kinney's character, Greg Heffley.

Ms. TANYA TUREK (Blogger, books4yourkids.com): Oh, if he was my son, I don't know what I'd do. He's just lazy and self-interested and doesn't think about anybody else. He's not empathetic in the least. And, you know, I think, really, he's a - like a condensed hyper-version of what kids are like at this age because I think the reason adults laugh at it is because we all remember doing something horrible to one of our friends as a kid or lying to an adult or something like that. But, you know, we maybe did it once or twice, whereas in these books, Greg is doing it almost every day.

NORRIS: Well, you note that the book is not just fantastical. I mean, like a lot of the scenes really do spring from real life…

Ms. TUREK: Yes.

NORRIS: …like the cheese touch, which a lot of the kids…

Ms. TUREK: Yeah.

NORRIS: …wrote in about, which really is about, you know, kids being ostracized for…

Ms. TUREK: Yeah.

NORRIS: …really strange reasons.

Ms. TUREK: True. And, you know, I really admire how Kinney captures that so astutely. You know, I think what I would like to see - you know, Kinney makes the point of saying that his books are less than free and that they're all about the humor, and I think that's great. I don't think his literature has to have morally outstanding characters in it. They can be ambiguous. But I think for younger readers, maybe the parents can be the moral voice outside of the text. You know, they can do a reality check with their kids after they read the book and say, hey, you know, what do you think about the cheese touch and what - how Greg treated Rowley, you know, or something like that.

NORRIS: So why are parents so suspicious of these books? Why are they worried?

Ms. TUREK: Wow. I didn't realize they were. I kind of thought it was just me. But…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: You know what, maybe you can help us understand the tension because on one hand, librarians have really come to appreciate these books, some reluctantly because they work so well with reluctant readers.

Ms. TUREK: Yes.

NORRIS: And parents, if you look at the blogosphere, a lot of parents are really ambivalent about this. They think the books are snarky. They think they're subversive. They think that they introduce kids to life lessons that they probably don't need in the pages of a book. I know when I read these books with my kids, I find myself laughing, laughing really hard and then pulling back and saying, ooh, do I want my kids to be laughing at that? Is that a good thing?

Ms. TUREK: Yeah. Yeah, you know, I go back and forth about this because I feel like on a certain level, the humor in the book is really adult and it is akin to, you know, maybe the humor in "The Office" or "Curb Your Enthusiasm," where someone's being a horrible person and everybody else is in on the joke, and you wonder if the kids reading the book are in on the joke. But I, you know, I just - above all else, I think this is a really great opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about what they're reading and figure it out that way. I don't think there's any reason to take a book out of a kid's hand if you, as the parent, are going to be involved and be the moral voice outside of the text.

NORRIS: Tanya Turek, it's been good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Ms. TUREK: Oh, it's been an honor. Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: Tanya Turek blogs about children's books at books4yourkids.com, and for there is numeral four. She also works in the Children's Department at a Barnes and Noble bookstore on San Diego, California.

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Cheese, Wimpy Kids And The Perils Of Middle School

Jeff Kinney i i

Jeff Kinney's newest book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is the largest book release so far this year, with 4 million copies in the first printing. Amulet Books hide caption

itoggle caption Amulet Books
Jeff Kinney

Jeff Kinney's newest book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is the largest book release so far this year, with 4 million copies in the first printing.

Amulet Books

The Bible says that the meek might one day inherit the earth. For now, one particularly meek kid named Greg Heffley is burning up children's book best-seller lists.

Greg is the smart-mouthed sad-sack protagonist of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series (read an excerpt). As Kinney tells Michele Norris, his character isn't a bad kid — just a "not-fully-formed person."

"I think most of Greg's unhappiness, he brings upon himself," the author explains. "Greg can't win, because that's Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and not kicking it. It's a device. He's a sad sack."

Kinney didn't always intend to write about middle school life. After college, he wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist, but after sending out his work and receiving a pile of rejection letters, he says, he realized he didn't have the artistic talents to draw at that level: "So what I decided to do was write and draw as a seventh-grade boy, because that's where I maxed out."

'Dog Days' book cover

Kinney was also attracted to middle school for another reason: its inherent drama.

"The fact that you really and truly do have kids who are twice the size of other kids and at various stages of development — it feels like a dangerous place," he says. "I thought it was an unexplored or under-appreciated place for a comedy."

The books in the Wimpy Kidseries generally revolve around the various embarrassments Greg experiences at the hands of his family and school friends. In the first book of the series, a moldy hunk of sweet cheese acts as what Kinney calls "nuclear Cooties." Kids run up to touch the cheese, then chase each other, trying to pass on its germ. The incident is based on a memory Kinney has of growing up, when a Boy Scout made the smaller kids do push-ups into a piece of cheese.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
By Jeff Kinney
Hardcover, 224 pages
Amulet Books
List price: $13.95
Read An Excerpt.

Kinney, who describes his middle school self as an average kid who had his wimpy moments, says he draws on experiences from his past while writing: "When I was on the swim team, I used to hide out from my coach, and hiding out in one of the stalls, I would literally wrap myself in toilet paper so as not to get hypothermia. I keep thinking that that was where Greg Heffley was born."

As for the parents who complain that his books are too snarky, Kinney says, "My books are harmless and fun, and they get kids to read. If anything, I think that these books are turning kids on to reading, and they are going to move on to more legitimate reading in the future, and that's a good thing."

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