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NEW (WIMPY) KID IN TOWN
Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its many sequels as kids books (originally composed with adult readers in mind, so the author says) have, reportedly, 150 millions copies in print and been made into a movie. An article about him in the NY Times says “the illustrated diary of an acerbic and devious middle-school boy named Greg Heffley. The stories were semi-autobiographical, loosely based on Mr. Kinney’s childhood and ‘put through the fiction blender.'” Thus, author Jeff Kinney’s work would seem to have some similarity to Shepherd’s.
I’ve skimmed this first volume and find it witty and well done, though not, as it claims on the cover, “a novel.” (Remember that Shep’s IGWT is described on the cover–and by Shep himself–as “a novel.”) Wimpy does follow the kid through his first year at middle school, seems not to have the structure of a novel, but, indeed, has, one after another, dozens of individual bits and pieces, each quite good as stand-alone, funny vignettes. They do add up to a volume that keeps one’s interest through funny little episodes and funny kid-like comments by the wimpy kid.
Neither does the book seem to be told through the drawings on every page (Described on the book cover as “cartoons.” The drawings are really very funny illustrations to the text. Altogether a well-done creation.
Does author Kinney have any acknowledged debt to Shepherd? I hope to find out.
An interview by David Hiltbrand posted online in March, 2010, comments. “Jeff Kinney had a clear template when it came time to adapt his wildly successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid children’s books to the big screen. ‘I went right to A Christmas Story,’ says the author, citing the 1983 film based on the stories of radio humorist Jean Shepherd.‘ ‘In most kids’ movies, the stakes are very high,’ says Kinney, 39, in Philadelphia this week to promote the movie, which opens March 19. ‘The world is going to end or somebody is going to die or something awful is going to happen unless the characters do such and such. In this movie the stakes are incredibly low. There are two friends who break up and you want them to become friends again. In A Christmas Story, the stakes were perhaps even lower. A kid wants a BB gun. We kept reminding ourselves when we were working on the film that you can tell a good story even on the big screen with really low stakes as long as the emotional part of it works.'”
In another interview he says, “I see my books as joke-delivery mechanisms. I’m trying to get as many laughs as I can per page. And if I can figure a way to get a good story out of it or something credible then I’m very satisfied, but really, I’m trying to keep the kid laughing, and often, if I have a lot of plot, it gets in the way of the joke and it burns through too many pages so I will sacrifice a good story for a good joke any time.” So we see that his intention is not the same as Shep’s long-form humorous tales (Though A Christmas Story, not a Shep-alone but a joint-creation, is constantly laugh-out-loud funny for me and my wife every time we see it.)
By the way, I also like the weird, kid-like drawing style of Wimpy Kid–it also has its appropriate, funny look to it.
Kinney is opening a large, independent bookstore in his home town. He’ll have a special spot for all the Wimpy Kid books and ancillary, money-making by-products.
Imagine how envious Shep would be regarding all this!
(Although there’s no focus on Shep’s total creative output
at the A Christmas Story House’s store,
maybe it’s the best we should expect.)