Why is Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Good? or Bad?

So I posted last week about how the book Diary of a Wimpy Kid is going to be made into a movie. I never really gave this book much thought as it is not my cup of tea, but I realize that about every single teen/pre-teen has probably read this book and or series. I received a comment about my post(which you can read if you scroll down) that read as follows

Aaron Mead said…
Here’s what I think about the book. If the movie is true-to-book at all, you can extrapolate my movie review…

While I agree that this is a funny book, I’m actually pretty worried about it as something that shapes the character of children. The central problem is that Kinney has us laughing at—and so wanting more of, and implicitly approving of—the mean things Heffley says and does, and his self-serving attitudes. The question is, should tweens—whose moral character is in relatively early stages of formation—be laughing at these things? My worry here is that the book just reinforces, and subtly leads us to approve of, a certain self-centered negativity that ought to be purged of pre-teens, not anchored all the more deeply via repeated and pleasurable reinforcement.

Okay, okay, I hear the objections already: “Isn’t this just puritanical paranoia? What’s wrong with a little frivolous fun? Couldn’t the book just be like junk food, i.e., okay once in while but not as one’s steady diet?” Reply: there is nothing wrong with frivolous fun. The problem is, reading books like this isn’t frivolous fun. Think of it this way: as a parent, would you like your son to be best friends with Greg Heffley? My answer is clearly, “No.” Why? Because our friends influence who we become, the choices we make, the attitudes we take—in short, our character—and I do not want my kids to have Heffley’s character. And I don’t think it is a reach to say that the characters in books we enjoy become our friends for a season—and perhaps for a long and influential season if the book is one in a series. (Hence the disanalogy with junk food: if you buy this book for your kids, they will “eat” it all the time.) Indeed, I know people who have become more emotionally attached to fictional characters than they are to the real people in their lives. So, while it is funny, I think we also need to consider whether it is good for children.

Final objection: “This book can help non-readers—particularly boys—to become readers.” While I agree that non-readers may well read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the question is, what exactly does that accomplish? I’m skeptical that such a book is going to help any child graduate to literature that is actually worth reading. By my lights, this book is no better than a funny but corrosive TV show in that respect (though it is considerably more creative than most TV shows). If we want to help non-readers to become readers—an extremely worthwhile goal—we need to do better than Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
February 27, 2010 11:58 AM

In which I posted a reply

Mr. Maurer said…
You hit upon some very excellent and insight points to consider. As a teacher and “role model” for middle school students I have to be careful what I say,do,promote,etc. in the eyes of my students. I agree with you on all of your points and actually you have me thinking in a whole new perspective on what I share and books that I booktalk. I took into consideration your point about would we want our own children to hang out with this kid and I instantly thought no way. I usually think of books as an outlet to read for fun or to work on reading skills. This book series is all over my building with reluctant and struggling readers. I cannot help but think of your final point that will this book help them move to the next level of literature. Probably not, but with some students I can’t help but think something is better than nothing. Thank you for such an insightful comment. I will have to address some of your points in a separate post because I think this dialogue needs to continue.

I am really reevaluating my approach to the books I promote and how I review. I cannot stop thinking about some of these issues. I would like to begin a discussion about this topic so please post some comments down below and see where this takes us. I hope some students respond so we can hear from both sides. Here is a link the site of Aaron Mead where you can read more.

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2 thoughts on “Why is Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Good? or Bad?

  1. Thanks for continuing the conversation here. I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment or this post earlier.

    I feel the pull of your thought that with some students “something is better than nothing.” The pull seems to come from the importance of literacy, particularly in our culture: if you’re not literate, there are big problems with just functioning in our culture. So, we want kids reading in order to develop the skill of reading. But, my point is just that we can get that “something” with different books that aren’t quite as corrosive for the character. Which books these are is going to end up being pretty particular to which kid we are considering. But, surely we can find GOOD books that will appeal to the particular interests of the child we have in mind.

    My view of choosing children’s books is that they need to be BOTH appealing AND developmentally valuable (or at least not detrimental), including in a moral/character sense. If anyone is interested in hearing more about my philosophy of evaluating children’s books, I have been working on a series on “How to choose a children’s book” on my blog that fleshes this out a bit more. It’s not finished, but I’d be interested in feedback/comments there.

  2. Thanks for continuing the conversation here. I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment or this post earlier.

    I feel the pull of your thought that with some students “something is better than nothing.” The pull seems to come from the importance of literacy, particularly in our culture: if you’re not literate, there are big problems with just functioning in our culture. So, we want kids reading in order to develop the skill of reading. But, my point is just that we can get that “something” with different books that aren’t quite as corrosive for the character. Which books these are is going to end up being pretty particular to which kid we are considering. But, surely we can find GOOD books that will appeal to the particular interests of the child we have in mind.

    My view of choosing children’s books is that they need to be BOTH appealing AND developmentally valuable (or at least not detrimental), including in a moral/character sense. If anyone is interested in hearing more about my philosophy of evaluating children’s books, I have been working on a series on “How to choose a children’s book” on my blog that fleshes this out a bit more. It’s not finished, but I’d be interested in feedback/comments there.