Diary of a Wimpy Kid has sold over 150 million copies, making it one of the bestselling children’s series of all times. Author Jeff Kinney is a verified celebrity in the genre, and was even named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People. This week, we’re sharing our interview with this dad of two, where he shares his best tips for raising readers, his own favorite childhood books, advice on getting kids off screens, and details of his latest book.
What are your best tips for raising enthusiastic readers?
The best thing a parent can do is recognize their kids’ interests and feed those interests. So if your kids is interested in Pokémon and sharks they’ll devour it, and eventually move on to something else. They’ll have learned that reading = pleasure – it’s the same reason we read as adults.
Love that advice. What are some of your own favorite childhood books?
When I was a kid I grew up on a diet of Judy Blume and Beverly Clearly – Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Freckle Juice. My favorite book was Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing from Judy Bloom. Eventually I became more interested in fantasy, like JR Tolkien.
Such great books that bring back memories! Any tips for parents struggling to get their kids off screens?
I think in some ways that’s going to take care of itself post-pandemic. The ability to meet up with friends and see one another outside—that will go aa long way to reducing screen time. Before the pandemic we had reduced screen time and this last year, screen time has been an essential and we’ve all thrown up our hands.
Yep…So do you have any thoughts on modeling behavior – for instance, should we all be putting down our phones? Sometimes it seems impossible…
I think we’re all addicts unfortunately and as parents we’re constantly modeling bad behavior on our phones. But I think there are times that are sacred—time at the dinner table, when someone in the room is talking to you…that’s a way to model good behavior. When someone is trying to interact with you, that text or email can wait.
That seems realistic. What about modeling reading behavior—does a Kindle versus a paper book matter?
I don’t think so…I think a kids book is different than an adults book, especially for very young kids. I think for young kids, it’s important to feel the pages, to turn the pages, and connect with the ideas inside a book. I don’t think a kid is going to see a difference in [you reading] a Kindle or paperback.
Why do you think Diary of a Wimpy Kids has resonated with kids all over the world?
I think kids take a look at my book, and they realize it looks like fun and not like work. Sometimes reading from school can be work. There’s a sea of text, which can turn some kids off. My book doles out little drawings as rewards along the way. I think the format and the humor inside the book make the series stand out.
Can you tell me about your new book, Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Spooky Series?
It’s a collection of short stories, written by Rowley, an innocent kid. It’s very pure and fun but also twisted. Hopefully I hit the nail on the head and kids will like it.
You’re doing a drive-through tour as well. What are you most looking forward to about it?
I am looking forever to getting back out there. It’s my 3rd physical tour during the pandemic. It’s good for kids to have something to do on their schedule that’s not virtual. I’d much rather be a grave digger in a graveyard handing out books on a shovel and hopefully the events will be memorable.
Click here for tour dates!
You own a bookstore, An Unlikely Story. Why is physically visiting a bookstore (or library) so great for kids?
There’s something sacred about browsing a physical bookstore or library because you make discoveries you can’t make online. We’re living in a digital age and the print book is becoming less important, so places that sell and loan books are more and more important these days.
How has your family survived the pandemic at home?
We have been doing okay. In some ways it’s been tough for us just like everyone, being cut off from loved ones and friends. But we spend a lot more intense time together…my favorite time as a parent was in the beginning, when everything was shut down. We watched shows together, ate together and when someone went to the grocery store it was an exciting mission. We’ve been lucky to not have anyone pass away in our family.
What’s something that surprises people about you?
I think sometimes people are surprised I was a criminal justice major. These days people are also surprised I do a lot of my writing at a cemetery since it’s the only place I can write alone. And that I own a bookstore.
Ha, a cemetery writing spot is definitely surprising. What is the most memorable thing you’ve heard from a parent whose kids loves your book?
I’ve met a lot of kids who are on the autism spectrum and my books have really spoken to those kids and their parents. They say the reason they work well is there are all these cues in the drawings that tell the reader how the character is feeling and that has been a gamechanger. I’m happy for my books to be a part of their childhood.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the 16th Wimpy Kid book and working on turning Wimpy Kid into animation.
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