Monday, January 27, 2014

Diary of A Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney (Author and Cartoonist)

Published in 2010

I can understand why Jeff Kinney’s book Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth made the New York Times Bestseller list and is so popular among middle school students. At first glance, a reader can see that the book would be visually appealing to young people because it is a graphic novel.  The book is written in first person point-of-view from Greg Heffley’s perspective. The cover and binding look like a diary or a spiral notebook, but Greg insists it is a “journal.” The illustrations are drawn in a cartoon format, and the pages are lined like notebook paper. The book is divided by months and days, rather than by chapters, and the words appear to have been written by a young child. The book is an easy read because of the many illustrations and large font size; I read it in one sitting. I have to admit this is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time.  I can’t wait to read more of Kinney’s books! I highly recommend that adults take the time to read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series because it really does give a humorous glimpse into the mind of a middle-school-age child.

Greg Heffley, the protagonist, is worried about the same things we all worried about or experienced when we were that age: our appearance, our friends, and the crazy antics that often involve family get-togethers. In this book, the family get-together involves Greg’s Uncle Gary’s FOURTH wedding, and he has had to take part in "every single one of them!" He can’t understand why there’s all the fuss; next year will be Uncle Gary’s FIFTH wedding. But the funniest anecdote is when Greg’s school announces there will be a special fund raiser for the music program at their school, a lock-in. I guess this one appealed to me because I’m a teacher, and I could visualize something like this actually happening.

Greg thinks it’s going to be great because boys AND girls will be there. However, when he checks in, he notices there’s “at least one adult for every kid,” and there’s not many girls at the lock-in at all. It’s not quite what he expects. One thing leads to another, and the adults can’t get the kids to participate in the activity center because everyone is listening to their electronic gadgets. This is a realistic portrayal of young people today! All the cell phones and electronic devices are confiscated, and this causes a major uproar later because the parents can’t get in touch with their children. Throughout the evening, there are several misunderstandings between the adults and kids, but the funniest thing happens when they are persuaded to be “social” and play a game.

Here’s Greg’s explanation of how the game is supposed to work: Each team has to go into another room and take a picture of one of its members. But the picture has to be a close-up, like an ear or a nose or a hand or something like that. Then each team will bring their picture to the library, and the other teams will have to guess who is in the picture. The winning team will get ice cream sandwiches (Kinney 66-67).

The boys are disappointed when they are handed old-fashioned instant cameras because “they don’t have a screen or anything” (Kinney 145). Greg’s team then goes off to the science lab to take their picture. They go back and forth trying to decide who and what part of the body to photograph. Is this really something you want to tell a group of middle school boys to do? Finally, they decide to take a picture of Tyson Sander’s bent arm, and they walk proudly back to the auditorium to win their prize. When the adults see the photograph they misinterpret it as someone’s “posterior,” become angry, and threaten to call their parents to take them home. The boys don't know what the word posterior means. Mr. Tanner says the one "whose butt [is] in the picture [is] going to REALLY be in trouble" (Kinney 151)! The kids run because they fear a “butt lineup” to try to catch the culprit.

Finally, Mr. Tanner listens to the boys’ story and compares the photo with Tyson’s arm and all is resolved. It was all just a simple misunderstanding. The entire book is filled with misunderstandings like this one between adults and kids that, I believe, both can relate to and will enjoy! I highly recommend this book not only for middle school students but for adults as well.

There’s one journal entry I have to comment on before closing. Greg is struggling with math. He says, “This math thing is becoming a problem. We have ‘standardized testing’ coming up at my school, and I heard that the teachers won’t get their bonuses unless we get good scores. So there’s a lot of pressure on us kids, which kind of stinks. I remember back in kindergarten, math used to be really FUN” (Kinney 66). Bonuses? What’s a bonus? Mr. Kinney, where did you ever get this idea for your book?
I absolutely loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth!

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