Long term readers of this blog will know that I do not think much of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series. I have reviewed a couple of the books on here and found them wanting, in much the same way I find Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry series wanting.
Wimpy Kid, despite my own preferences, remains perennially popular with readers at school. I recently bought a set of the books for our school library and they flew off the shelves in literally minutes. I am always doing running repairs to the paper backs as they literally get read to death.
I decided, after Oscar polished off the whole series of Wimpy Kid books over half term, and he’d read some of them previously but couldn’t resist reading them again, that I must try again, and see if I could overcome my reluctance. I decided to start with the latest book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, which is the ninth book in the series, and will, I predict, not be the last. The good thing for me is that even if I dislike the books, they only take an hour or two at most to read, given that the vast majority of the material is cartoon based and the words are few and far between.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by The Long Haul.
My main gripe with Wimpy Kid has always been that Gregg Heffley is such an unpleasant child. He delights in getting other children into trouble, he is vile to his friends, he is pathologically unable to take responsibility for the things he does and is never brought to task. I cannot understand why anyone likes him, including his own family. Some of the situations Gregg gets himself into are amusing, but they always seem to end with humiliation and usually not for Gregg, who slides out from under blame like a fried egg on a Teflon pan.
In this book the situation has changed, and I was much happier. Here Gregg and his family are forced by his well meaning and frankly deluded mother, to take a family holiday/road trip, in which they will fill their time with devil may care, educational and improving adventures while they ramble across the States in their people carrier, towing the boat that Gregg’s dad has bought and never used.
Gregg’s mother gets all her ideas from a wholesome publication called Family Frolics, which is the bane of Gregg’s life, and it is nice to see that something is capable of upsetting Gregg’s equilibrium for once. The other nice thing is that the episodes in the book see the whole family getting into scrapes and Gregg showing some modicum of responsibility and awareness with regard to the family dynamic/blame etc.
It reminded me rather of National Lampoon’s Vacation. It has the same kind of mishaps, albeit suitable for younger children, but it has the same very enjoyable elements of farce and misadventure that are actually rather funny. The family dynamic works well in this book and gives a sense of real people rather than the rather cardboard figures they have been in previous books.
I don’t really need to give an age range for this book do I? Every child on the planet knows about Wimpy Kid by now. My only element of caution is if you are buying this to read to a child. As it has a lot of elements of the graphic novel and cartoon books it is incredibly hard to create a joined up narrative for this if you are reading aloud, just like The Captain Underpants books. They are better read alone rather than as a book to share. The whole series are gold dust if you have reluctant readers, short and easy to read as they are, with lots of child friendly humour.