Interview With Jeff Kinney: “I Write The Wimpy Kid Books For Adults”

We are in the back room of Waterstone’s, in the Bentall Centre, in Kingston. The room is crammed with bags, suitcases and shaky piles of green books.

Jeff Kinney sits in the middle of the chaos smiling like an 8-year-old on Christmas Eve signing copies of his latest book Hard Luck, while hundreds of children and parents are getting in line in front of the store to meet him.

The book sold more than 1.3m copies in its first week and its protagonist Greg Heffley made his creator one of the most successful children’s book authors in the world. But are the Diaries of a Wimpy Kid really children’s books?

We talked to Jeff Kinney at one of his rare UK book signings and were supported by Kajetan, Lina and Alex, three big Wimpy Kid fans who sent in their questions. 

Greg is an extraordinary smart kid, don’t you think?

Jeff Kinney: Gregis smart but he is an underachiever. His academics aren’t great, but he is a great kid. Plus he is kind of an unreliable narrator. He misses some things that the reader can see. He is not yet a fully formed person and he is not picking up on some things that adults would pick up on. 

The book deals with a range of complicated issues of social life like friendship, parenting and jealousy. Can children understand everything that is going on between the lines of your books?

I actually wrote the books for adults to begin with and I still write them for adults in a sense. Hopefully kids will figure things out over time and come to appreciate the books more as they get a bit older. 

The book is based on your life when you were in middle school. Is childhood now different from childhood back then?

I am trying to write about childhood in general so I really strive to tell the universal story of childhood. 

Your books don’t have a lot of text, but they are very smart and funny. What role do they play in today’s children’s literature? 

They are a great gateway to reading. When kids read picture books and strive to read chapter books, sometimes the chapter books are a bridge too far for the kids. The books are a great way to teach them that a novel can be an entertaining thing. I don‘t think this is high literature, but it’s fun. 

You also have many adult readers…

A lot of adults end up reading my books because they are brought into their homes by their kids. This is great because I wrote the books for adults and now they are finding their audience. They are being brought to them by kids, which is really wonderful. 

Alex, 11, wanted to know: What is your favorite part of the new book?

My favorite scene in the book is when Greg’s great grandfather blows his false teeth out onto the birthday cake, which actually happened to my father’s uncle. 

Kajetan, 12, wanted to know: Will Greg grow up in the books?

No. I made the decision that Greg will remain the same. He shouldn’t get older or grow taller. One of the reasons that people love their cartoon characters is because they are reliable and that‘s what I want for Greg. 

Kajetan: Were you always that good at drawing?

I appreciate that compliment. I don’t believe I am very good at drawing or that I am a great cartoonist. I think I am really good at acting and drawing like a kid. 

Lina, 11, wanted to know: Why does Greg have such a stupid haircut?

There is this long history of cartoon characters who are boys and who are nearly bald, Charlie Brown being proably the most famous. Greg is one of them. This all goes back to the first cartoon character who was called the “yellow kid”. He debuted in about 1893. It’s a way of making sure that your reader knows who the main character is. 

Watch the trailer of the new Wimpy Kid book Hard Luck or follow Jeff Kinney on Twitter: @wimpykid 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @_schwindelfrei_

Image courtesy of Startraks Photo/Rex

Video courtesy of Puffin Books UK

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