Winnie's War: Jenny Moss
Fact of Life #31: Denise Vega

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw: Jeff Kinney

Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw
Author: Jeff Kinney
Pages: 224
Age Range: 9-12 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last StrawI've been recommending Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid books ever since the first one was THE book that turned a young friend of mine onto reading (story here). But until recently, I somehow never got around to reading one. Now that I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw, I see what all the fuss has been about with this series. 

For those unfamiliar with the books, the Wimpy Kid books are written as the diaries of a slightly geeky middle schooler named Greg Heffley, complete with a font that looks like it was written by hand, and lots of sketches and cartoons. This format, and the episodic nature of the stories, makes the books particularly accessible for reluctant readers. The illustrations break the flow of the text, and there are no long chapters or dense pages. It's always easy to read a few more pages. But even more so than the format, I think it's Greg's voice that makes the books work for kids. I mean, this kid is a riot (examples to follow). The Last Straw had me giggling out loud on page after page.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw is loosely about Greg's father's attempts to toughen him up, and the imminent threat of military school (hmm... I wonder if Jeff Kinney ever watched Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure). It follow's Greg's winter semester, from New Year's Day to the first day of summer vacation (and possible departure date for military school), touching on everything from sibling rivalry to detention to Greg's increasingly dramatic attempts not to have to do laundry. Here are a couple of excerpts to give you a feel for the humor in the book:

"You know how you're supposed to come up with a list of "resolutions" at the beginning of the year to try to make yourself a better person? Well, the problem is, it's not easy for me to think of ways to improve myself, because I'm already pretty much one of the best people I know. So this year my resolution is to help other people improve. But the thing I'm finding out is that some people don't really appreciate it when you're trying to be helpful" (Illustration of unappreciative mother) (Page 1)

"You know, if the school is going to take away our bus ride home, the least they can do is install a ski lift on our hill. (Illustration of ski lift) I've emailed the principal about five times with my suggestion, but I haven't heard anything back yet." (Page 46)

My favorite parts, though, were :

1) A segment in which Greg decides to write his own picture book ("All you have to do is make up a character with a snappy name, and then make sure the character learns a lesson at the end of the book."); and

2) A graphic segment in which Greg hides out in a laundry basket, to track down a snack thief. The illustrations are priceless!

But there are lots of other funny bits, too. I'm not generally a big fan of episodic stories (preferring strong, "what happens next" plots), but even I was charmed by Greg's combination of ego and haplessness. I can see why kids of all ages love these books. A fourth book in the series is planned, and I hope that there will be others. Highly recommended for kids of all ages.

Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: January 13, 2009
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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