Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney is the latest (2013) installment in the Wimpy Kid series, and one of the books we have discussed in our book club in the last fortnight.
I have written about Diary of a Wimpy Kid on this blog already. A very successful series, starting with; Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and encompassing numerous sequels, two films, and a whole host of spin offs, the books tell the story of Greg Heffley in his own words.
Like Tom Gates, Greg is a fairly sparse diarist, preferring to fill the pages with cartoons of his family, his life and the various exploits he depicts. There is probably slightly more text in a Wimpy Kid book than a Tom Gates book, but not much, and the format is very similar.
Wimpy Kid is resolutely American, while Tom Gates is English, but they partner well together, and if you have a child who has run out of one series and hasn’t started the other, they will warm to them instantly. At least, they do amongst all the children I have met. Tom Gates probably has the edge on Wimpy Kid in terms of popularity at the moment in school, but should another Wimpy Kid book come out before the next Tom Gates book it would switch for a while.
Unlike Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid comes out in hardback first, so Tom Gates may be more accessible in terms of cost, at least to begin with, until the paperback version is out.
Both books incorporate things you, the reader can do in the backs of the books, so that you can become more like Greg or Tom. They also both have excellent, interactive websites, which are crammed with things to do, games and ideas etc.
In this particular volume, Greg takes us on a tour of his family history in the first half of the book, comparing his birth and toddlerhood with that of his younger brother Manny and his older brother Roderick. Manny starts to come into his own in this volume, and you wonder if, when Kinney as an author has run out of things to say about Greg, he might be building the foundation here for a series about Manny.
The second half of the book deals with Greg’s attempts and failures to get himself a date for the Valentines’ dance. It seems that Greg has learned absolutely nothing between the first book in the series and this one, as his patented methods still involve putting other people down, belittling, tricking and humiliating them in the name of looking good himself.
I, as an adult, find this problematic, as I think Greg is a deeply unpleasant character. The fact that Greg’s plans always backfire and he ends up with egg on his face, while the victims of his latest ruse always come out smelling of roses is more than enough to satisfy the children though, and when we discussed it in book club, they found his exploits funny rather than troubling.
The book appeals to both boy and girl readers and I would say it’s suitable for children aged about seven and up. There is nothing offensive or tricky in these books. They are simple to understand and easy to read, and the children seem to get great satisfaction from zipping through them at a vast rate of knots. There are, like Tom Gates’ books, not enough of these on our library shelves to satisfy demand at the moment. They are extremely popular.