30th October 2009 at 00:00
US author Jeff Kinney's 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' books have been credited with inspiring reluctant readers; a film version is in production

What inspired you to come up with the Wimpy Kid?

I was inspired by failure. I did not set out to become a children's author or even a children's cartoonist. It was my dream to become a newspaper cartoonist, so I worked at that for about three years after college. The responses I got were discouraging. My problem was that my drawings were not of a professional standard. So I decided to write from the perspective of a 12-year-old so that nobody could call my artistic merits into question.

Was it easy to tap into the mindset of a 12-year-old boy?

I picked middle school because I thought it was a really under-explored age group. I would say that I have a good memory for my childhood. Most of my stories are ordinary, but those are the stories that I find the most interesting and the most humorous. The spirit of the books comes from those memories.

Why do you think it appeals to reluctant readers so much, especially when you intended it for adults?

I have copious illustrations in my books. If you are browsing at a book store and pick them up, you are bound to find an interesting illustration no matter where you open them. But I think it is the humour that is appealing to the kids. I work hard to make sure that the voice is authentic.

Do you think if you had tried to write for children in the first place it would have been patronising?

Yes. I think it would have been didactic if I had written with kids in mind. Even though now I know my audience is for kids, I still write for adults and hope that kids get the joke.

As your sons get older, do you think this will influence the way you approach future Wimpy Kid books?

I have a four-year-old and a six-year-old, and having kids pushed a reset button on my own memories and experiences. Up to this point I have just been remembering and now I am witnessing childhood. I think it will fuel a lot of ideas for many years to come.

You work full-time for Poptropica (an online virtual world for children) and have previously worked as a games developer with the Family Education Network. Public opinion is divided about whether video and computer games are a good thing for children: what is your opinion?

Any technology or content delivery system could be a good or a bad thing. There is not a simple answer to the question. But what is good about video games is that it's still storytelling, and in fact it's more engaging storytelling in a way in that it's making the player a part of the story. Authors have to compete with an immersive media in video games. The pressure is on the author to deliver as enriching an experience as video games do.

Did the experience of working in children's video games help you with writing?

Developing video games helps me to think back to when I was a child and to remember what was engaging to me. Those memories also help my writing.

Who has been the greatest influence on you?

Carl Barks, a cartoonist who worked on the Donald Duck comics from the 1940s to the 1960s, had a lot of influence on me. His style and storytelling were the best of the best.

How do you feel about the film adaptation?

It is different from the books, so I do not know how fans will receive it. But hopefully we have captured the spirit of the books. It will be live action as opposed to animation. I am an executive producer on the movie and have been to the set about five times and will spend a week there. I have been very much involved from the beginning.

How have teachers responded to your books?

I was surprised at how positively teachers have received my books because the Wimpy Kid is not a good role model. (The books) are a bit subversive and at times a little juvenile. But I think teachers appreciate that the books have gotten their kids to read. It has kind of been a magic bullet for reluctant readers. I have got nothing but a really warm reception from teachers. We get about 70 requests for school visits a week, but unfortunately I have a full-time job so I cannot keep up with it

The fourth book in the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, was published by Puffin this month. A live-action film of 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' is due for release in April.


2009: Published the third and fourth Wimpy Kid books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.

2006: Signed book deal for Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

2004: Began publishing The Wimpy Kid diary online at

2000-present: Design director of the Family Education Network, where he created

1996-2000: Graphic designer, medical information website

1995: Page designer, Daily News, Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Late 1990s: Drew and wrote a comic strip, Igdoof, for the campus newspaper while studying at the University of Maryland.

Mid-1990s: Game developer with the Family Education Network.

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