Telling the Tales of A Wimpy Kid: Jeff Kinney by Christine Webster
Jeff began writing Diary of a Wimpy Kid very quickly. After a while, he realized that much of what he was writing was not very funny. He decided he needed another plan. Before he started writing an actual book, he dedicated his time to coming up with 77 idea pages. From here, he would choose only the very best ideas on these pages.
It took Jeff four years to fill those 77 idea pages. He then cut 80 percent of the material he felt was not worth putting in the book. He was not sure his diary idea would ever have a chance of being published. Jeff pitched his idea to Charlie Kochman, a comic book editor. Charlie immediately liked it. Here the idea of making Wimpy Kid a series for kids was brought up. Jeff was skeptical, but he agreed to revise Wimpy Kid for younger readers.
And so a bunch of bodacious best-sellers was born!
Success didn't come easy to author-illustrator Jeff Kinney. A kid who loved funny books, such as Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, and Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins series, Kinney was drawn right away to cartooning. Early on, even as his college newspaper comic strip Igdoof was a hit at the University of Maryland, Jeff realized that he wasn't much of an artist, not even as a cartoonist. He went to work as a programmer, designing a website, Poptropica, and kept on trying to peddle his comic strip to newspaper syndicates with no success. But while he kept his day job, Kinney also kept on working on various comic ideas, keeping a journal of ideas, and slowly he settled on a comic stick-figure style with episodes based on the life of a clueless seventh grader. Admittedly incorporating many of his own worst qualities as a middle schooler, Kinney kept on drawing and revising his story, shaping his collection of jokes and cartoons into a connected narrative, working late into the night while his family slept.
And then his first book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1, was published into almost instant best-seller status, with almost as many adults as kids among its fans, making his hapless hero Greg Heffley an instant literary celebrity. Kinney may not be a stellar cartoon artist, but he has the magically sensitive ability to portray his benighted and self-centered seventh-grade anti-hero sympathetically, in a way that stirs all those embarrassing memories for grown-ups and resonates with the experiences of 'tween readers. All of Kinney's characters are immediately recognizable to readers, from his pesky little brother Manny to his equally hapless but always gung ho buddy, Rowley, his snarky garage-band rocker big brother Rodrick, and the rest of the middle school milieu, all of which manage to get in the way of Greg's only life goal, to reach the top level in Twisted Wizard.
Christine Webster's, Jeff Kinney, with Code (Remarkable Writers) (AV2 Books, 2012), the opener in the biography series Remarkable Writers, features a clear description of the years of hard work and constant revision that went into Kinney's runaway success--to date six best-sellers and a very popular movie spin-off. Webster points out the many failures that led to this success. and the drive, life choices, and frequent changes of direction that resulted in Kinney's career accomplishments. The author also provides additional supplementary and back matter--a timeline, a breakdown of the biography as a literary type, a quiz on the facts in the text, and a audio-visual online link with even more information for book reports or browsing. Jeff Kinney comes across as a real person, a guy, a dad, and a writer with whom many kids can identify and perhaps emulate in finding their own futures, and this series helps young readers go right along with him in the creation of his best-selling and beloved character.