Saturday 6 December 2014

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney (Puffin Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780143308591
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

You know the book is going to be a good read before you read the first page. The author has created one of the most successful children’s book series ever published; even Time magazine says that ‘Wimpy Kid is bent on world domination’, its author-illustrator named as that magazine’s choice for one of the world’s most influential people. So what makes the series, and this particular book, so phenomenal and best-selling?

For a start, the visual look of each of this book’s 217 pages is appealing, not just for the comic black and white illustrations, but because of the text which appears to be hand-written. There are never more than two sentences in any one section. After each block of text, there is either an illustration or a line space. Each page appears to be written in an exercise book because of the lines. The design lay-out therefore makes every single page look appealing, especially to the remedial reader. Yes, it makes for a longer book, but there’s another reason for it to appeal to a kid reader – he (and it will mostly be a boy) can say, when he finishes reading the book, that he’s read ‘a thick book’.

Surprisingly, there are no chapters in any Wimpy Kid book; the text is one continuous story narrated in first person by the protagonist, Greg Heffley, who writes about his life, his family and his friends, in an easy style that the average reader can relate to. All sentences are relatively short with no vocabulary beyond the readership of most eight year olds.

In The Long Haul, Greg and his family – mum, dad, older brother Rodrick, and toddler brother Manny – head off in the car on a holiday. Straight away there’s a problem when all the family’s belongings (including Rodrick’s drum set) doesn’t fit into the car. There is lots of humour along the way, for instance when Rodrick buys food for dinner from a grocery shop which includes frozen cinnamon rolls and a pizza. When they get to a motel, Rodrick solves the frozen problem by putting the food in a microwave. But – der -- it’s not a microwave, it’s a safe. And of course, Rodrick has locked the safe and nobody can open it. The family finishes up eating dinner from the motel’s vending machine – breath mints and sugar wafers! (Of course Mum is a food Nazi and this is totally not on her radar).

All the minor crises that occur when a family is crammed with their goods into a car on a long trip are here, and every reader can relate. This is the appeal of the story, its ability to have readers nodding with self-recognition and laughing. Kinney makes it all seem so page-turningly easy. The noisy kids (‘little punks’) from another room in the motel follow the family car next day, and of course there is an exchange of obnoxious faces from one car to another. At the next destination – a fair – Greg and his big brother enter the Foulest Footwear Competition; of course Rodrick wins first prize. But Greg gets 10% of the prize (‘deep-fried butter on a stick’) for being Rodrick’s agent. Meanwhile, Manny wins a baby pig. (What do you do with a pig on a family holiday?) And – what do you know – the noisy motel family seems to be following the Heffleys around.

So the trip continues, as does the stream of funny incidents and Greg’s amusing observations along the way. The whole book made me think of the Simpson family but in print. It’s no wonder that kids are still enjoying the ninth book in the Wimpy Kid series. And no doubt they’ll be waiting impatiently for the tenth – which is sure to come! The books deserve all of the accolades, especially for the fact they are getting kids away from their computers and instead diving into wonderful (thick) books that tick all of the right boxes. Ideal for readers aged 8 to 11 years.



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