What’s the secret of success to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series? Is it the side-splitting, overbite-laden illustrations? Is it the clumsy bravado of main character Greg Heffley, who makes everyone feel better about themselves? Or is it the dry-as-toast intellect throughout, that parents appreciate and children thrill at “getting”? Whatever it is, there’s no debating that Diary has taken the world of kiddie lit by storm. So, in honor of the November 5 release of the highly anticipated eighth book Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck, here are eight life lessons that the wonderfully wimpy, and ignorantly arrogant, Greg Heffley and his Seinfeldian gang have taught us.
1. Dream big.
Main character Greg Heffley is blissfully unconcerned with his own narcissism, laziness, and lack of muscle tone, but that never stops him from believing he’ll someday be rich and famous—even though the school’s future job questionnaire predicts he’ll be a clerk.
“Well, there must be something wrong with the way they set up these forms or something, because I don’t know any clerks who are billionaires…I know EXACTLY where I’ll be in fifteen years: in my pool, at my mansion, counting my money. [Never mind that] there weren’t any check boxes for that option.”
Greg even sees the diary his mom buys him as an opportunity for personal gain. “The only reason I agreed to do this [journal] at all is because I figure later on when I’m rich and famous, I’ll have better things to do than answer people’s stupid questions all day. So this book is gonna come in handy…Here’s my journal. Now shoo, shoo.”
Simply put, Greg urges all of us to reach for the stars and stardom, no matter how many Candy Grams we have to send to ourselves in the meantime.
2. Mom knows best.
Susan Heffley, well-meaning parenting columnist and mother of three Heffley boys (four, if you count her husband), never seems to tire of encouraging her disinterested pack of males to read a book or spend quality time together or get outside for some fresh air. When she’s not buying her kids a Ladybug cellular phone (perfect for kids and the elderly!) or doling out Monopoly money (aka, “Mom Bucks”) for jobs barely done, she’s rewriting history with her fictionalized scrapbooks. Greg’s mom is a great example of how maternal love never falters or asks for anything in return. Except for your father’s leather jacket back. It’s too cold to be wearing that to school. Here. You can wear my quilted, belted, knee-length woman’s parka instead, Honey.
3. Take the path of least resistance.
Why do laundry when there’s still a perfectly clean bathing suit and Halloween costume to wear? Why participate in swim team when you can hide in a bathroom stall wrapped in toilet paper for warmth? And why walk on two feet at the water park when your parents are going to have to rent a stroller for your baby brother anyway and they might as well rent a double?
Just ask Greg. He knows how to get the job just barely done. You can call it lazy or you can call it “conserving energy,” but either way, Greg’s got some insight into taking it easy, such as this gem on sleeping in on the weekends: “Most kids wake up early on Saturdays to watch cartoons or whatever, but not me. The only reason I get out of bed at all on weekends is because eventually, I can’t stand the taste of my own breath anymore.”
And rethinking dental care: “Maybe false teeth wouldn’t be such a bad thing. If I had dentures, I could have someone ELSE take care of my teeth, and I could spend the extra time doing something I actually enjoy.”
In short, Greg is not going to suffer from high blood pressure any time soon. So maybe he’s onto something.
4. A picture’s worth a thousand words.
One of the greatest truths of the Wimpy series is that sometimes pictures say more than words. Some of Jeff Kinney’s funniest punchlines happen in the comic illustrations of his books and not in the text.
Such as that one where Greg imagines himself in heaven, at God’s knee, reminding Him of when he saved that squirrel. Or that one when Greg’s lifelike doll Alfrendo comes tapping at the bedroom window. Or that one when the kids break out the tuba at the slumber party lock-in and mimic flatulence. Too funny!
Wait. What’s that? These references don’t make sense to unless you’ve read the book? Well, maybe that’s what I’m trying to trick you into doing. You don’t even have to thank me for it later.
5. Overcome your Fregley.
In the Wimpy series, Fregley is, to put it gently, the weirdest kid on the block. He says things like “Does this scab smell funny to you?” and “Wanna see my secret freckle?” and “Wanna hear about my ‘hygiene issues’?” The problem is, Fregley is ALWAYS in his front yard, eager to talk, and Greg has a hard time getting anywhere without getting roped in to a conversation with him. That is, until Greg realizes he can actually make it all the way from his house to his friend Rowley’s house by crawling through the drainage pipe. Never mind that this leaves him smelling so bad that his mother believes he has gone through puberty and buys him a copy of “What the Heck Happened to My Body?” Greg doesn’t let Fregley stand in his way.
There’s a metaphor here, I think. What is YOUR Fregley and how are you going to overcome it for the sake of what you love?
6. Let’s flush politics.
In The Third Wheel, a kid named Eugene Ellis wins student council president by a landslide. Simple because he promises to replace all the cheap, scratchy school toilet paper with the expensive, quilted kind.
“When Eugene finished his speech, the whole place went berserk. Kids are ALWAYS complaining about the toilet paper situation because the type the school uses is like sandpaper.”
I don’t want to give away what ensues, because I hadn’t laughed that hard since I first saw the Anchorman jazz flute scene, but suffice it to say, it’s not unlike grown-up politics. Jeff Kinney has the absurdity of elections nailed.
7. Your family isn’t the weirdest.
In The Ugly Truth, we get to meet Greg’s extended family. There’s Gammie, who wants to give Greg “The Talk”; Uncle Joe, who lectures him about his future; Gaseous Aunt Dorothy; Cousin Benjy, who only says “No!” and “Shut up!”; Grunting Uncle Arthur, who never speaks; and the notorious Uncle Gary, who’s been married four times. He’s the one who, instead of having his “Lydia” tattoo removed when he met Sonja, just had the words “I AM NOT IN LOVE WITH” and “ANYMORE” added around it.
I haven’t even mentioned Greg’s little brother Manny, whose imaginary friends include: Joey, Petey, Danny, Charles Tribble, The Other Charles Tribble, Tiny Jim, and Johnny Cheddar.
Anyway, long story short, your relatives will look really normal after some time spent with the Wimpy folks.
8. Good friends are worth the cheese touch (spoiler alert!)
Greg has lots to learn about friendship; he’s always taking his best buddy and genuinely nice guy, Rowley, for granted. But when the unthinkable happens at the end of Book One, and Rowley is forced to confront the infamous moldy playground cheese in a way we never imagined, Greg ultimately steps up to the plate and claims the Cheese Touch as his own. But only after Rowley has already eaten it.
It’s a great example of what we should do for friends. I mean, after they’ve already done twice as much for us, that is.
In closing, I’ve read all seven of the Wimpy books and have laughed myself silly in the process. And I’m a 41-year-old woman, not an 11-year-old boy. That proves something (besides my innate immaturity), and it’s this: just like classic Looney Tunes, these timeless books are filled with humor that adults can really appreciate, wry insight into human nature, and a warmth that won’t admit it’s there, but we can feel nonetheless.
I’ve also learned one valuable lesson as a parent, straight from Greg, and that is: “I don’t know much, but what I DO know is that you shouldn’t announce what the punishment is gonna be BEFORE you ask people to turn themselves in.” Thank you, Greg. I’ve made note of that.
What’s your favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid book?