Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney
Reviewed by Gerti
I always try to read my kids’ books to make sure they aren’t sending them a bad message in some way. But you really can’t read Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series expecting to find the same sort of inspirational, uplifting message you’d see in a Horatio Alger novel. There is nothing here about working hard, or saving your money. It’s not that sort of thing, nor was it ever intended to be. If anything, the books have terrible messages, like if you don’t want to do chores for your parents, be sure and do them poorly so they won’t ask again!
However, Kinney is good at writing comedy that middle-schoolers and younger will get. He conveys that comedy both in his writing, which is generally clever (although not instructive in a good way) and in his art. Greg Heffley is written as a typical boy, but drawn to look more like Homer Simpson, with his few standing hairs on top of his cartoon-esque head. But the drawings are part of the charm of this series, and “Old School” is a pretty typical offering.
Hapless hero Greg has to deal with any number of bad days here. His mother is on a kick to get the town to unplug, feeling that cell phones and modern technololgy are bad, hence the title. She wants everybody to go “old school”, and gets a group of people to spend their time reviving an old playground that has fallen to seed. Greg turns it into a comic adventure, when he and his study buddy Frew, and a reprobate assigned to do community service (a friend of his older brother’s, of course) escape the work detail, only to be tracked down by his mother’s cellphone technology. Ironic, no?
Even more fun is had thanks to the family’s pet pig (some of the funniest drawings in the book), a new potty training plan for Manny (Greg’s younger brother) that includes going without pants, and his grandfather’s decision to move into the Heffley’s hectic household due to economic conditions. Since Grandpa chooses Greg’s room to sleep in - the pig is in the guest room - Greg is grateful to get away to summer camp at Hardscrabble Farms. That’s where most of the comedy ensues, as Greg and a band of hard-luck campers are forced to endure conditions with Rowley’s father, Mr. Jefferson, as their chaperone.
It’s all pretty funny stuff, but none of it is edifying in any way. But perhaps that’s the way young boys like it. No kid will ever grow up to run a successful software startup thanks to the life lessons found in these books, but they are funny, and hopefully you’ve already taught your kids all the good manners and ethics they need, because they’re not gonna find any positive role models from the peers in this “Wimpy Kids” series. However, the blurb on the book’s back cover does mention that these books are “a big hit with reluctant readers”, and perhaps that’s the point. If your kids don’t like reading “real books”, at least the adventures of dysfunctional Greg and his friends will keep them from watching TV or playing video games for a few hours. And for parents, that at least is a small victory.