Wimpy Kid Books: Are They Turning Our Kids into Terrors?
I read an article over the weekend that harshly criticized Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. The author claimed that the protagonist of the book, Greg Heffley, was a terrible role model for young children. According to the article, his rogue ways (which include stealing, lying, and bullying) are not exemplary for the millions of kids out there devouring the books like candy.
Anyone who has read these books cannot condemn them with a straight face. Open to the third page of the first book and you'll read, "Let me just say for the record that I think middle school is the dumbest idea ever invented. You got kids like me who haven't hit their growth spurt yet mixed in with these gorillas who need to shave twice a day. And then they wonder why bullying is such a big problem in middle school." And then a few pages later there's the "Cheese Touch." A moldy piece of cheese that has been on the school basketball court "since last spring" is the object of this hysterical game where kids who touch the cheese and get the "cheese touch" are contaminated until they pass it on to someone else through tagging.
In the new book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days, Greg complains because his mom tells him he can't open his birthday cards the way he used to: "I have a GREAT system for opening cards. I put them all in a neat pile, and then rip each one open and shake it to get the money out. As long as I don't stop to read anything, I can get through a pile of twenty cards in under a minute."
This is not just cute humor--it's laugh out loud hilarity. Critics feel that the books send the wrong message by condoning Greg's disrespectful and immoral behavior. But since when does every fictional character have to be moral, well-behaved and righteous? One of my favorite books is Kate Chopin's The Awakening. Though I relate to many of Edna Pontellier's struggles, I do not agree with all of her actions, and have certainly not been moved to do anything as drastic as she did. Likewise, the children reading the Wimpy Kids books will not turn into mean, terrorizing people.
I can only speak for my own children, but they are NOT PERFECT. Yes, they have morals and they seem to know the right thing to do more often than not. But they are children, still navigating their way through the rough seas of our complex society. Literature is supposed to help them relate to the world, not teach them the perfect behavior code.
There are hundreds of classic books that enhance children's minds through brilliant writing and underlying lessons. But reading should not only be about learning right from wrong. Children, especially the over-programmed ones of today's world, need to be able to let loose too. If they can do that through reading a book instead of watching an iCarly episode, all the better.