Jeff Kinney on His New Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book and Upcoming Disney+ Film
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Fifteen years after his first book rocketed him to international bestsellerdom, Jeff Kinney reflects on his new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, his upcoming animated film and why his series continues to resonate with kids
Jeff Kinney has two teenage sons, but he’s raising millions of readers. Since his Diary of a Wimpy Kid hit shelves in 2007, it’s been on the New York Times children’s book series bestseller list for a staggering 707 weeks and counting. (That’s longer than Harry Potter, in case you’re wondering.) His books—there are now 16 in the series—have collectively sold more than 275 million copies and been translated into 82 languages. And the Diary of a Wimpy Kid new book, Diper Överlöde, is already poised to hit the bestseller list.
By all accounts, Kinney has broken the reading barrier: The hilarious misadventures of middle-schooler Greg, friend Rowley and older bro Rodrick appeal to kids, especially boys, who haven’t been keen on reading for fun. At the same time, the book series is beloved by avid readers. A six-time Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award winner, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is considered to be among the best book series for young readers and bridges the gap between kid-favorite graphic novels filled with illustrations and fiction books filled with text.
Kinney has produced at least one new book every year and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid new book, the 17th in the series, is due out this month. On its heels comes a second Diary of a Wimpy Kid animated Disney movie (consider this your reminder to reread the book with your kids before the movie comes out). Reader’s Digest asked Kinney more about both projects, what keeps him inspired and how his young readers today are different than they were when the series began.
Meet the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book
Ask young readers about their favorite stories, and most will tell you they cackled their way through each Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. The funny thing is, Kinney, who wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist, didn’t think kids were going to be the audience for his books. “I thought the stories would be in the adult humor section,” he tells Reader’s Digest.
Equally curious, he collected the material in a notebook for eight or nine years before he showed it to anyone. He eventually found a publisher at a comic convention in New York City who convinced him that middle-grade readers, essentially third- to sixth-graders, were the best audience for his signature format of notebook-lined pages with lots of illustrations. (They’re similar to graphic novels but have more text and don’t contain comic panels.)
Clearly, his publisher had the right idea. The series has been such a hit that Kinney is gearing up to release the 17th volume in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. One of the most-anticipated books of the year, Diper Överlöde will hit store shelves on Oct. 25, though you can pre-order it now to beat the rush.
Like the rest of the series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid new book centers on middle-schooler Greg. In this installment, he becomes a roadie for Löded Diper, a band led by his brother, Rodrick. The band entered a contest and needs to practice and perform more to have a chance at winning, but things never seem to go their way.
Kinney drew on his own childhood for some of the material. “My older brother had a band in the basement,” he says. “There are connections between my real-life experiences and the fictional experiences, but it’s all been put through the blender.”
Diary of a Wimpy Kid new book tour
Simply signing books in a store isn’t Kinney’s style. Over the years, his book tours have been legendary—he often rolls into town on a tour bus that’s themed around the topic of the book. The tour for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid new book is shaping up to be the wildest of all.
For starters, he hired a band to travel with him and play Löded Diper songs. They’ll hold events in 12 musical cities, such as Cleveland, Nashville and Austin, between Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. Each event will feel like a concert, with live performances, competitive karaoke and dad dance-offs.
It’s all proof that Kinney is far from the hopeful comic book artist he was back in 2006, the year a publisher snapped up his story. He’s closer to a rock star these days—an author so big he’s as much of a draw to readers as his new book. Also adding to his cool factor: He wrote the screenplay for the forthcoming film based on the second book in his series.
From page to screen
With two screenplays under his belt (and more to come), Kinney has settled into the role of screenwriter. He actually prefers writing a screenplay to a book. “It has rules that are easier to follow, and with all the dialogue, you can actually write at the speed of thought,” he says.
He’s eager for kids and parents to have a family movie night and watch the latest flick together. “I’ve seen the whole film, and I feel like I’m keeping a secret,” he says. “I’ll feel a sense of relief when other people can watch it.”
That day is coming sooner than you think: The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules animated film debuts on Disney+ on Dec. 2. (Bonus: The publisher is releasing a special movie tie-in version of the book with a cool new cover.) Like the live-action film of the same name that came out in 2011, the animated version is based on the second book in the series and features a rock ‘n’ roll story line.
But don’t expect an animated copy of the original; this film will feel different, says Kinney. “You can make a more faithful movie adaptation using animation than live action,” he says. Plus, this time around, Kinney had the role of screenwriter and producer. “I was involved in every little detail,” he says. “It truly feels like Greg’s world has come to life.”
Raising a generation of readers
Kinney’s books meet kids where they’re at in their lives and use humor, absurdity and sarcasm to keep the pages turning. It’s like a master class in teaching kids to love reading. One of the best examples is this line from the beginning of the first book: “Let me just say for the record that I think middle school is the dumbest thing ever invented.”
What’s more, he pioneered the format. Each page looks like it’s been handwritten in a journal, and illustrations break up the text so nothing seems dense or overwhelming. “I wanted it to look like more fun than work,” says Kinney, who appreciates the importance of reading, especially in the lives of children.
That approachability is what makes reluctant readers give it a chance—and why so many of its readers come away with a love of books. Beyond the easy-reading format, though, the series digs into the kind of issues kids deal with on a day-to-day basis. It deals with bullies, not being good at sports, sibling squabbles and all the drama of middle school. Those topics feel relatable to kids, says Kinney. But unlike some nonfiction books for kids that tackle issues with a more serious air, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is, first and foremost, silly and fun.
The wimpy kid of the future
There’s no timetable for how long Kinney will keep writing the series. We may get an annual Diary of a Wimpy Kid new book for the next decade or more. “Sitcoms have an average lifespan of eight years, but comics can run for 50,” says Kinney.
Although the main characters haven’t grown up or changed much in 15 years, his readers have. “They’re much more influenced by social media, especially my older readers,” he notes.
And perhaps because there’s been a push to publish young adult and children’s books about diversity in the years since the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book came out, this generation of Wimpy Kid fans “place a greater value on kindness and are more accepting.”
If that’s not reason enough to keep putting out books for young readers, then we don’t know what is.
Read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series