Friday, October 11, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

In The Last Straw Greg's schemes and laziness are laugh out loud hilarious and ridiculous. Greg is worried that father is going to send him to military school to make him mature and hardworking, but Greg thinks he's perfect as stated in his first entry about New Year's Resolutions: "Well, the problem is, it's not easy for me to think of ways to improve myself, because I'm already pretty much one of the best people I know." He then set out to help other people improve, including suggesting to his mother to chew her chips more quietly.

The tension between Greg and his dad began when Greg's dad caught him standing over the heating vent wearing his mother's fluffy bathrobe. He also caught Greg hiding in a basket full of his mother's underwear in the laundry room. His father was also tired of waking Greg up for naps. The turning point happened when Greg's father witnessed him trying to use the Force to get a remote for 15 minutes. He tells Greg to go outside and exercise after that. Greg's laziness is exacerbated by the fact that his father's boss Mr. Warren has three sons who are sports fanatics and Greg's dad sees them exercising when he drives home from work every day.
Greg joins a soccer team as a bench player after feeling pressured to be more physically active. However, he goofs off a lot and is not interested in the games. When Greg gets the opportunity to be goalie he gets distracted by dandelions. His father is furious and fed up once again. Greg tries to cover up the fact that his grades are getting lower because he's not completing his school work due to his lazy behavior. For example, Greg turned in a fake four page paper for biology class because he was too busy watching tv and playing video games. Greg's father encounters a teenager named Lenwood from their neighborhood at the movies and they get along surprisingly well. Greg's father is impressed by Lenwood's transformation and Lenwood tells him that he goes to Spag Union Military Academy. After that conversation Mr. Heffley tells his Greg that he is going to sign him up for the same military school and that new recruits report on June 7th.
Greg is frantic to get in his dad's good graces so he joins the local Boy Scouts. Greg decides he wants to be in Troop 133 instead of Troop 24 because Troop 24 does a lot of community service projects and Troop 133 has hot dog roasts and pool parties. The Boy Scout experience goes well and helps Greg appear more disciplined. Greg's progress is ruined when he is unable to go on a camping trip and his dad has to camp with the Woodley brothers instead. Mr. Heffley ends up going to the emergency room with the Woodley brothers and is very upset about the whole weekend. Greg feels there is no way he can convince his dad to change his mind about sending him to military school now. Things appear pretty grim for Greg until he inadvertently saves his dad from having to perform something goofy at Seth Snella's half birthday party. Greg climbs a tree to retrieve a blanket that his little brother Manny threw in the branches and Greg's pants fall down. Just as Mr. Heffley was going to be videotaped performing, Greg took the attention away as he was hanging from the tree branch.
Mr. Heffley thought that Greg was pretending to get his dad out of the performance, and he was very happy for the distraction Greg caused. On the morning Greg feared his dad was going to send him to Spag Union his father tells him that he's re-thought the whole thing and that maybe Greg can just do push ups and sits up every once in a while. Greg is extremely relieved and uses his newfound freedom to imagine a great summer lounging around the pool with a cute girl. Greg is grateful his father has changed his mind, but that doesn't mean he's going to change his ways as evidenced by his plans at end of the diary. Greg might be lazy, but he's determined to enjoy himself even if he's doing something he's not particularly fond of, and that's a quality readers can admire along with his sense of humor.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

Greg Heffley continues to chronicle his middle school days in the second installment of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The book opens with Greg trying to downplay his interest in diary writing for the new school year saying, "I guess Mom was pretty proud of herself for making me write in that journal last year, because now she went and bought me another one." Readers can tell that Greg likes writing in his diary, and it's a good thing he does because he is refreshingly candid and hilariously flawed. Greg recalls that he has to keep his diary a secret because "some jerk" would find it and get the wrong impression of him. His older brother Rodrick is the one who finds Greg's diary and punches him. This sets up the highly relatable theme of sibling rivalry in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

Greg has a bad summer on the swim team. He gets picked up late by Rodrick in his Loded Diper van and has to avoid getting hit by all the band equipment while sitting in the back. Greg hides out in the bathroom for most of swim practice because he doesn't enjoy the cold water or swimming on a team. When he goes back to school everyone runs away from him and he remembers he has the Cheese Touch from last school year. Greg passes it on to a new kid at school named Jeremy Pindle. Greg has to deal with Rodrick being lazy with household chores such as doing the dishes and they have a lot of arguments in front of their little brother Manny, who is disturbed by them. Greg's Mom and Dad mistakenly believe Manny draws a picture of them two fighting and try to act loving in front of him, but Greg knows Manny drew the picture of him and Rodrick. At school Greg has to endure Rowley's stories about his vacation to South America and worry that Rodrick will reveal an embarrassing event that happened to him over the summer.

Greg's dad takes him to the mall often so he can avoid hearing Rodrick's band practicing in the basement. Greg notes that every time Rodrick has a paper to turn in at school, he manipulates his dad into typing it up for him. During the first few weeks of school Greg pulls a prank on his classmate Chirag Gupta by pretending he's not there. Chirag complains to the Vice Principal and Greg has to apologize to Chirag after his mother finds out. Mrs. Heffley warns Greg that if she catches him lying again he'll be grounded for a month. She introduces a program called "Mom Bucks" to encourage Rodrick and Greg to do household chores and do good deeds. On Career Day Greg fills out a questionnaire and imagines his future counting his money in a pool at his mansion. When he gets the results and sees "clerk" he remarks, "Well, there must be something wrong with the way they set these forms up or something, because I don't know any clerks who are billionaires." Greg's parents go away for the night while Rodrick has the flu. As soon as they leave Rodrick calls all his friends over and throws a big party. Rodrick asks Greg to bring a table upstairs from the basement and gets locked down there. Greg falls asleep in the basement and when he wakes up and goes upstairs the house is trashed. Rodrick tells Greg that if he doesn't help him clean up he'll let out his secret. Greg reluctantly helps clean. They panic when they see "Hi Rodrick" in permanent marker on the bathroom door and decide to replace it with a closet door in the basement. When their parents come home Mr. Heffley inspects the house and doesn't find any proof of the party.

Mrs. Heffley offers to pay Rodrick to teach Greg how to play the drums. Greg recruits Rowley for the drum lessons, but they don't go well because Rodrick is impatient and uninterested. One day while Greg is playing board games at Rowley's house he notices that one of the board games has the same exact play money as "Mom Bucks". Greg takes all of it and figures he has enough money to not have to work in the future. Greg buys Rodrick's old history paper for $20,000 "Mom Bucks" because he didn't have time to write his own paper after counting on it to snow overnight. Greg realizes that Rodrick got an F on the paper and doesn't turn it in. When he comes home he finds out that his mom discovered the stolen "Mom Bucks" stash underneath his mattress and has ended the Mom Bucks program. Rodrick and Greg get in more trouble after Thanksgiving when Mr. Heffley finds a photo of Rodrick's party after developing the pictures on the camera in the living room. Rodrick is grounded for a month and Greg is banned from video games for two weeks. Greg is further punished for setting up Rowley to get injured during a sleepover and is forced to take Rowley's place for the school Talent Show. Greg has to be paired with a first grader named Scotty Douglas for a magic trick act. Greg doesn't put any effort into the tryout and they don't make it in the show. He is slightly relieved, but also embarrassed because they were the only act not to get in. Rodrick's band makes it in the show and they plan to use the tape of their performance to get a recording contract.

Rodrick asks Greg to record his band's performance on the night of the talent show, but Greg refuses to because he doesn't like the way Rodrick has been treating him. Mrs. Heffley records the performance, but it turns out bad because she made a lot of comments over the music. Rodrick and his band then rely on the school's recording and are angry that the cameraman mainly focused on Mrs. Heffley dancing to their performance. Rodrick blames the taping fiasco on Greg and gets revenge by telling all his friends the embarrassing event that happened to Greg over the summer. Greg tells the real story first: While he was visiting his grandfather at a senior citizens' housing named Leisure Towers, he tried to escape from Rodrick after he found his diary. Greg runs into the bathroom intending to rip all the pages out of his diary and flush it down the toilet. As he starts ripping the pages he realizes that he accidently went into the women's restroom. He is trapped in there for over an hour and a half. The women report that there is a "Peeping Tom" in their bathroom and Greg is escorted out by security.

At school the next day Greg is prepared for the worst then is surprised when all the boys come up to him congratulating him. It turns out that the story changed to Greg having snuck into the girls locker room at Crossland High School on purpose. He got nicknamed the "Stealthinator" and became popular in school, though the girls were not happy about what he supposedly did. Rodrick is further ridiculed because the footage of his mother dancing to his band became popular online and he became known as the drummer from the "Dancing Mom" video. Greg extends an olive branch to Rodrick by helping him on his science project that he had to re-do using the scientific method. Although the science experiment Greg helped Rodrick to complete is ludicrous, he feels proud of himself and confidently claims "When Rodrick gets first prize tomorrow and passes Science, I just hope he realizes how lucky he is to have a brother like ME." Greg is willing to put Rodrick's past slights behind him and accept the differences between him and his older brother--i.e. he's better than Rodrick.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

The first installment of Jeff Kinney's blockbuster Diary of a Wimpy Kid series offers a glimpse of the hilarious experiences to come in the life of crafty middle school student Greg Heffley. He begins his first diary by explaining that it is a journal and that he would not be pouring out his emotions in it. He says that writing in this "journal" was his mom's idea, however he explains why it will "come in handy" in the future: "The only reason I agreed to do this 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 long."

Greg comments on how he plans to increase his popularity level this school year, but his best friend Rowley seems oblivious to the fact that he doesn't look cool. Greg talks about the dreaded "Cheese touch" that a student can get if they touch a piece of molded cheese on the basketball court. The person with the Cheese touch can pass it on to another student who hasn't crossed their fingers. At home Greg tries to get away with slacking off, but his parents usually call him out and make him do things he doesn't want to. When he tried to get in lower academic classes, Greg suspected his mother spoke with the Principal to get him moved up. When he played video games after school his father kicked him out the house and told him to get real exercise. Instead of playing outside Greg goes to Rowley's house and plays video games with him. Greg's older brother Rodrick often plays pranks on him that Greg likes to use on Rowley. Rodrick is characterized as an emo teenager who has a heavy metal band named "Loded Diaper". Whenever Rodrick's band practices at home, Greg makes sure not to be there because they are "AWFUL."
One of the first things Greg attempts to do to boost his reputation at school is to run for Treasurer of the student government. He figured he wouldn't have any competition until he found out that Marty Porter, who is good at math, was running for Treasurer too. Greg made posters about Marty having head lice and being clumsy with the school funds, but the Vice Principal told Greg he was not allowed to "write fabrications about other candidates" and took the posters down. Greg figured his "political career" was over after seeing Marty handing out lollipops to students to get votes. Greg then sets his sights on a money making scheme after going to a high school haunted house and calculating how lucrative it is based on the ticket price. He recruits Rowley to make their own haunted house and charge kids in the neighborhood fifty cents a piece to get in. After the first kid gets too frightened by Greg and Rowley screaming at him and hides under the bed, Rowley's father shuts down their haunted house. When Greg and Rowley go trick-or-treating they end up getting chased by teenagers and hide out at Greg's grandmother's house. They taunt the teens while they are safely inside, but it turns out to be a huge mistake later on.
When a wrestling unit starts at school Greg is mortified that his wrestling partner is Fregley, a strange kid who lives in his neighborhood. He is disturbed by the fact that Fregley keeps pinning him and decides to gain weight to get out of Fregley's weight class. He asks his parents to buy him exercise equipment and his dad gets excited, but his mother tells him to do jumping jacks and sits ups for two weeks to prove he was serious. Greg makes his own makeshift exercise equipment by filling two empty gallon bottles with sand and attaching them on the sides of a broom stick. He calls Rowley over and makes him test out the weights. By the time Rowley finished bench pressing the "barbell" he told Greg he didn't want to weight train anymore. Greg ends up not lifting the weights at all. Just as Greg is settling in his ways at school his mother forces him to sign up for "The Wizard of Oz" school musical. He signs up for the role of a Tree assuming that he wouldn't have any lines, but the music director Mrs. Norton wrote an original song for the trees so everyone can sing in the play. At the time of the performance Greg chooses not to sing because Rodrick is there with a video camera and he doesn't want him to use the footage against him for the rest of his life. The musical is a disaster because everyone forgot their lines and many of the actors behaved inappropriately. Though Greg ended up having a good time, his family didn't enjoy the play.
Greg's next attempt to improve his status at school was to become a Safety Patrol. He enjoyed the perks of getting hot chocolate every school morning and missing most of Pre-Algebra when he had to walk kindergarteners home from school midday. Everything was going well until Rowley was accused of "terrorizing" the children and got in trouble. Greg felt guilty because he was the one who scared the children by chasing them with worms. When he confessed to Rowley that he was the real culprit, Rowley told the supervisor and Greg was dismissed from his Safety Patrol duties. Rowley stopped talking to Greg and got a new best friend. Greg then attempts to get in the Class Favorites section of the yearbook by becoming the school paper's new cartoonist. He submits his comic "Creighton the Cretin" and gets selected. Greg notices that no one is laughing at his comic strip. He finds out that his cartoon was changed to "Creighton the Curious Student" and the words were completely different from what he wrote so he quits being the cartoonist.
Rowley is selected as the new cartoonist for the school newspaper with his comic strip "Zoo Wee Mama." Greg confronts Rowley because they came up with the "Zoo Wee Mama" idea together before they stopped being friends. While they are arguing on the playground and others students instigate for them to fight, the teenagers who Greg and Rowley taunted on Halloween come and grab them. The teenagers force Rowley to eat the molded cheese. Greg tells them he's allergic to dairy to avoid eating the cheese. After the ordeal is over the students wonder what happened to the cheese. Greg tells them he got tired of seeing it and removed it. They claim Greg has the Cheese touch and stay away from him. Rowley starts talking to Greg again and things get back to normal. At the end of his first diary Greg is very disappointed when he sees that Rowley won the title of Class Clown in the superlatives section for his "Zoo Wee Mama" comics and  wants Rowley to remember that he ate the cheese if he gets too full of himself.