Last night I sat down with my son as he started reading book 4 (Dog Days) of the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series. It was quite a harrowing experience.
The ‘diary’ has a relentlessly negative message – we had absolutely nothing in common with any of the characters (and wanted nothing to do with them). From the opening sentence where we introduce to an unhealthy and irrational concept of a guilt:
“For me the summer break is basically a three month guilt trip.”
By page six we’re on to spreading a message about ‘perfect’ body images in a book targetted at pre-teens. 20 pages later and there’s no let up, we’ve gone through the merits and attractiveness of media gossip, re-inforced the body image thing, promoted the benefits of familial distrust and watched a horror movie.
Opening a page at random (p88):
“I like to cut to the chase on my birthday and get right to the gifts so I told everyone to gather in the living room. I took my time with the cards, just like Mom asked. It was a little painful, but I got a good haul, so it was worth it”
Now every kid might think like this or act like this at some stage – but that’s what parents are for. There’s nothing in the book to expose an alternative idea or instil a change in these warped values. It’s just left with the main character thinking about ‘my parents lousy idea’ – and your children are supposed to identify with this diarist?
Fundamentally we found no humour in this book. I’m not even going to give this one away. I might keep it in store as an example of a really bad book; when the lad’s older and has the experience to understand I can explain just why it’s so bad. In fact if you’re doing book reviews for GCSE or A-level and want to hand in something to contrast with all the glowing eulogies from you classmates, here’s a good candidate (… the only other option is tossing it on the fire.)