Diary Of A Wimpy Kid And The Buddy Comedy

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Jeff Kinney’s Diary Of A Wimpy Kid was first published in 2004. The twelfth in the series is due November 2017. Kinney originally planned ten, unless the quality dropped off. At this point he plans to continue indefinitely, so long as they’re still popular.

Television tie-ins, film versions and highly illustrated diaries of the Wimpy Kid ilk are all consumed in abundance. Such books should not be despised as merely unchallenging, or even pernicious (as Enid Blyton once was by disapproving parents and teachers); welcoming, accessible work, full of deftly harnessed silliness and engaging illus­tration, plays a critical role in the reader’s deve­lopment, teaching by stealth the power of a punchline or a single phrase or word, and makes the act of reading pleasurable in a way that ­data-driven literacy objectives often do not. Predictable formulae, comforting, unchallenging narrative arcs and repeated re-reading allow a child to build a solid foundation of enjoyment from which he or she can go far.

Imogen Russell Williams

THE AUDIENCE OF DIARY OF A WIMPY KID

By this point in his career, Kinney knows his audience really well.

“Kids usually discover my books around seven or eight. Once they are nine they really understand them. They read them until about 13, when they grow out of them.”

“You can’t really write for kids or you might write down to kids.”

ON WRITING FOR CHILDREN

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Teaching Emotional Literacy Via Chapter Books

Throughout the history of children’s literature, children’s books have existed in large part to teach lessons. Not only do they teach children to be compliant, grateful, pious, and to work hard, children’s books socialise children. Today we might say they teach ’emotional literacy’.

emotional literacy is taught via the Ramona books

“Everybody else on the block rides two-wheelers. Only babies ride tricycles.” She made this remark because she knew Howie still rode his tricycle, and she was so angry about the ribbon she wanted to hurt his feelings.

Ramona the Pest, Beverly Cleary

Adult readers are left to work out motivations, ironies and desires for ourselves — we read between the lines. And this is true for young adult novels, too. But when children are learning to read they are also learning to recognise and name their feelings. Chapter books such as the Ramona series are good at doing that because they add that little extra bit of explanation.

This little bit of extra explanation can be found in children’s books for older readers, too:

“So you should have told me before, that’s what. You shouldn’t hide things like that from people, because they feel stupid when they find out, and that’s cruel.

Northern Lights, Philip Pullman (Lyra to her father)

When an adult is unable to identify their own feelings it’s called alexithymia.

Alexithymia is defined by:

  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

Alexithymia is found more commonly in the autistic population, but not all autistic people have trouble understanding and identifying emotions. In fact, only about one in two autistic people have trouble with this.

Likewise, a surprisingly high 10 percent of non-autistic individuals are alexithymic.

Reading and understanding complex and difficult emotions are skills that need to be learned by all of us. Another reason not to skip the chapter books!

While Beverly Cleary does it beautifully, it’s easy to name emotions badly.

Tomboys vs Girly-girls In Middle Grade Novels

  • Laura and Mary Ingalls
  • Georg(ina) and Anne
  • Ramona and Beezus/Susan Kushner
  • Bean and Ivy
  • Clementine and Margaret
  • Junie B. and Tattletale May/Richie Lucille

Each of these pairs represents a perceived dichotomy of girlhood: the girly girl versus the “tomboy”.

While I use the word “tomboy”, the speech marks indicate my disdain for the very concept. A girl who likes rough-and-tumble and dressing for practicality is no less of a girl. The word itself upholds a narrow notion of what it means to be a real girl.

This is the very political position taken by many popular modern writers of chapter books and middle grade novels. Publishers and readers love it, right now. This upturns the now offensive political position of earlier children’s stories; until very recently, if girls were depicted in children’s books at all, they were the minor characters — the inevitable sisters and mothers and giggly schoolyard opponents. Even books for girls and about girls actively encouraged domesticity in their young readers, preparing them for their futures as mothers and housewives by returning them safely to the home, if they ever left home at all.

Modern literature for girls is mostly the inverse of that. Modern girls read about girls doing brave, adventurous and amazing things. It’s a truism that the most interesting kidlit characters are proactive, sometimes naughty, often cheeky. Imperfect and relatable, in other words. Sometimes they are average kids in every way (oftentimes ‘underdogs’); other times they have a special super power.

I don’t just mean ‘super power’ in the fantasy sense. Modern heroines of kidlit might be a Hermione trope — good at school work and often annoying in girly kinds of ways, but useful to the boys in their quest for self-knowledge due to her extensive knowledge on a subject, which must take place (rather boringly) off the page, since swotting requires many hours of solitude.

What It Means To Be A ‘Girly-Girl’

  • Upholder of social rules (a la ‘Tattletale May’ from the Junie B. Jones series)
  • Feels the need to look pretty and also judges others on their appearance
  • Bookish
  • Good at memorisation
  • Well-behaved in school, sometimes a teacher’s pet.
  • Helps the mother at home and is often the ‘mother’s pet’
  • Aligns self with adults who have conservative, old-fashioned attitudes about a child’s place: Children should be seen and not heard.
  • Fearful, anxious temperament
  • No sense of humour, though she may develop a sense of humour/how to have fun if she ‘learns’ it from tomboy types

 

What It Means To Be A ‘(Tom)Boy’

  • Breaks the social rules. Is sometimes punished, other times rewarded
  • Dresses for practicality rather than to look pretty, and is interested in other people for what they can do rather than what they look like. Non-judgemental.
  • Outdoorsy/sporty
  • Tasks such as rote memorisation are rejected due to their boringness.
  • Misbehaves in school. Has trouble sitting still. Drawn to movement.
  • Is mischievous at home and is often in conflict with the mother, aligning self with the father (who may often be absent)
  • Aligns self with adults who are open-minded, kid-friendly and even tempered and fair
  • Open to adventure; unafraid of consequences; brave
  • Keen sense of humour

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