Friday, November 15, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

The latest entry in the Wimpy Kid series is immensely enjoyable. Hard Luck features the usual Greg Heffley humor involving his slacking, self-centered, scheming, homebody nature. Greg gets into relatable scrapes at school and with his family that makes his character still fun to read about.

In this book Greg finds himself friendless when his best friend Rowley ditches him for his girlfriend Abigail. Greg's ensuing search for new friends and the struggle of being alone makes you smile even though it can be pretty sad sometimes, for example, when he has to play checkers with a teacher during recess after pressing the "Find a Friend" button for company on the playground. He comments on how the students ineffectively handle problems such as there not being enough seats in the lunchroom and the way many students tried to crook the Hero Point system for extra recess. Greg offers insightful social commentary on the structure of the different groups he tries to see if he can fit in with such as noting that the girls tend to discriminate against less popular boys and the unhygienic habits of the boys at his lunch table.

When Greg attempts to let the results of a Magic 8 ball make his decisions for him his plan unravels and things get out of hand at school because he doesn't complete homework assignments and is not being responsible for his actions. The funniest moment of the book is when Greg goes to school with The Body Blankie to be more comfortable. Another standout scene is at a family reunion on his mother's side where Greg has difficulties finding his place among the kids and the grown ups. There is a hilariously realistic scene where everyone fights to find his great-grandmother Meemaw's diamond ring.

This book manages to convey humor despite the serious topic of feeling isolated. Greg starts to take some responsibility for his actions and even made a wise decision to keep his family intact over Meemaw's ring at the end, which is unexpected and touching.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
224 pages

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever is the sixth book in Jeff Kinney’s immensely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Kinney is an online game designer and creator of the educational kid game website Poptropica. He writes and illustrates the Wimpy Kid series that he says is based on his real life childhood experiences. The series was initially an online version in 2004 that Kinney agreed to publish due to its popularity. The release of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2007 proved its continued success.

There are over 100 million books from the series in print and the last three books made it to #1 on the New York Time Bestsellers list. Within the first few pages of Cabin Fever it is easy to see why Wimpy Kid is such a big hit. There are all the elements of familiar childhood angst and awkward social situations that make this book humorous, universally appealing and relevant to kids around the world today.

Cabin Fever continues to follow the daily life of Gregg Hefley, a mischievous, business savvy seventh grader who has a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This book is full of laughs and relatable situations for young kids such as Greg shoveling his neighbors’ driveways to raise funds for his recreational activities. Greg uses hilarious tactics to quell his anxieties like sending phony e-mails to his relatives to figure out what they are going to get him for Christmas ahead of time.

The diary opens with Greg’s consternation about getting Christmas presents. He is aware that he has behavioral issues and fears that if he gets in trouble before Christmas he won’t get any presents. The humorous element is the inclusion of Greg’s mom’s childhood doll named “Santa’s Scout” who is going to watch the kids to make sure they are being good. Greg feels like the doll is following him everywhere though he suspects his older brother Rodrick is placing it where Greg is at.

The main action before the snowstorm referenced in the title is Greg’s attempt to make money from his own version of the school store named Holiday Bazaar. In true Greg fashion his plan goes terribly awry. The police begin to investigate the green stains Greg accidently created on his middle school building while trying to advertise his store. The ensuing trepidation that Greg experiences is amplified by the winter blizzard that traps him and his family in the house for a couple of days with a limited food supply.

Cabin Fever is a delightful addition to the Wimpy Kids series because it offers a different setting and climate. While many of the previous books had plots surrounding school issues, this one focuses on the holidays and Greg making mature decisions after he makes a big mistake. At this point in the series it seems like Kinney would have run out of topics to talk about, but Greg always finds a way to keep people interested because he is that dynamic of a character. Though Greg is still a kid at the end of the book, he learns a valuable lesson about honesty that hopefully many of the readers can learn from too.