The Diary of a Whimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney has certainly hooked in many striving readers over the years, and once hooked, those striving readers begin to thrive. I saw first hand how one of my students transformed as he worked through this series. Because of his enthusiasm, I couldn’t wait to meet Jeff Kinney in person. It was certainly the highlight of the VSLA reading conference for me. In this post, I’ll share six lessons I learned from Jeff.
Why I Loved hearing jeff kinney
I began this post with a quote from Jeff Kinney. He was the feature author for the conference this year. As I mentioned, my students were just crazy about the fact that I was going to meet THE Jeff Kinney. One of my boys, KJ, was SO excited about it that he asked if I could take his book along to get Jeff Kinney’s autograph. I told Mr. Kinney about my guy, and this is what he wrote. Can you believe it? It was just perfect, and I can honestly say that KJ was on cloud nine when I showed him.
Once we got past the shock of actually meeting THE Jeff Kinney, it was time to actually take in the important lessons to learn from Jeff. I took great notes in order to share them with my students. Here are my key takeaways from his talk.
Six Lessons I Learned from Jeff Kinney
Encourage Reading of a Variety of Genres and Authors
First of all, he was always a reader, but he was a reader of a variety of genres. That is important as we teach our students. They may have their favorites, but they need to understand all genre types. His father loved comic books, and there was no shortage in his home. He loved The Far Side, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbs. His very favorite though was Donald Duck-Lost in the Andes In fact, he commented that it was the basis of how he thought about the world. I bet you have a child or two like this.
Share the Classics You Loved as a Child
Another important lesson…share the classics if you want to build readers. Look at the books that are recommended for your grade level and weave them into your program. Our kids need to hear the classics and discover what’s new too. Even though he loved comics, Jeff’s mom, a teacher, shared with him many great books, Where the Wild Things Are (which he said gave him bad dreams.), Swimmy by Leo Lionni, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, and the “Fudge” stories by Judy Blume.
Help Students Experience Book Stores and Libraries
Jeff Kinney grew up in Ft. Washington, Virginia, and he remembered buying his very first book and the experience in the book store. Crown Books gave him the feel of hardbacks, the smell of the paper, and the imagery of a great story. It was there that he found his first interest in books. He purchased his first book gift of Bloom County’s “Loose Tails” for dad, but he went on to enjoy Tolkein and many others. He discovered a book, How to Draw and Sell Comics which got him interested in writing comics, and the lesson here is that books can help lead you to careers that will make you happy.
Work Through Mistakes and Be Persistent
Several years later, Jeff began at the University of Maryland and it was there that he began to write. His first book, The Igdoof Bathroom Companion…got rejected, but he did not give up. That is important an important life lesson. Writing takes practice, so be persistent.
Skills You Learn May Lead to New Career Options
Once Jeff graduated, he was hired with a newspaper doing layouts (which we see as a skill in his Wimpy Kid books). Then, he moved into medical software, and eventually, game designer. I never knew he was involved with Fun Brain? Do you use that website? Cool huh?? Jeff began working for Pearson, but still kept looking for the “right” job. He enjoyed working on the Poptropica website. He loved the fact that this website requires no words to play. No identifying information and no words were needed to play. Both Funbrain and Poptropica used his ability to draw cartoons. He worked on the illustrations for both.
Choose to Be Positive
A few years ago, Jeff read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a great book that looks at statistics and how the variables that impact them. The book gave him the encouragement to continue working on Wimpy Kid. The lesson here is to choose positive. Motivation in all aspects of life is important, and providing students with a purpose for reading pushes them to seek other books later.
Persistence Pays Off
It took eight years working on Diary of the Wimpy Kid, and three years of work trying to get it published. When the publisher called, they decided to break it into a series of books, and the original included the events in book one through book five. To this day, Jeff said that he truly treasures the feel of hardback book. He said, “The physical book reaches senses that digital copies just can’t.” The experience of going to the bookstore, looking for just the right book, feeling it and the pride of carrying it out of the store is an important experience for children to have.
Jeff Kinney is still working since he “doesn’t want to give up health insurance”, but he is reaching another goal soon, opening up The Unlikely Story Bookstore where an old general store called Falks Market once stood. Below is the before and after, and if you’re ever in Plainville, Massachusetts, you’ll have to drop in. It sounded like an amazing place, and I think the lesson to learn from this is to follow your dreams and what is important to you.
Finally, Jeff had a few words about Wimpy kid becoming a movie. He explained that he was quite nervous and felt very responsible for the final product even though the movie crew had the control. Jeff recalled how he felt watching it for the first time. He said, “It was gut wrenching really!” Jeff confessed that he likes being in control of the ink and pictures, but this time he had to give up control. He was happy though to be involved with casting and on the set.
Well, that’s Jeff’s story, and I hope you’ll grab his books and share them with your students. They will love them. Have a great week!