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Published: Monday, October 15, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Why the 'Wimpy Kid' feels so real

  • Jeff Kinney, author of the Wimpy Kid books, tells the ugly truth: His character, Greg Heffley, is him as a middle-schooler.

    Jeff Kinney, author of the Wimpy Kid books, tells the ugly truth: His character, Greg Heffley, is him as a middle-schooler.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In the first "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book, protagonist Greg Heffley -- a skinny middle-schooler -- and his buddy Rowley try to build a gigantic snowman. Instead they end up rolling a snowball so big they cannot push it, tearing up a newly sodded lawn in the process.
Like many episodes in the Wimpy Kid series, that scene was borrowed directly from author Jeff Kinney's memories of growing up in Maryland.
"Those kinds of stories are things I like to put in my books -- the real childhood-feel kinds of stories," Kinney said in a recent interview.
So when you see Greg hiding from his swim coach in a locker room bathroom stall, wrapped in toilet paper to keep warm, you can imagine a young Jeff Kinney doing the same thing, because he did.
Kinney, 41, was born on Andrews Air Force Base, and grew up in Fort Washington, Md.
"I think that my middle-school experience was more scary than Greg Heffley's middle-school experience," Kinney said. "I felt like we went from the safe confines of the elementary school to the really scary, almost prison yard environment of middle school. So it was terrifying for me."
Despite his not-so-fond memories of middle school, Kinney said he chose to set the Wimpy Kid books during that period because having characters who are twice the size -- and half as mature -- as other characters makes for great comedy.
Greg is one of the smaller kids. He's a slight boy with only three hairs on his head. He isn't into sports, but he loves video games. He gets picked on by his older brother, Rodrick, and tries to maintain a decent reputation at his rough-and-tumble school.
"He's full of imperfections, but he's frozen in this kind of pre-adolescent amber forever," he said.
Greg doesn't always do or say the right thing. That's why young readers relate to the books, which are designed to look like the doodle-filled journal of a tween boy.
There also has been a trio of successful, live-action Wimpy Kid movies. A seventh book, "The Third Wheel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 7)," comes out on Nov. 13. It focuses on Greg trying to get a date for a Valentine's Day dance.
Together, all six books have sold 75 million copies, according to the publisher.
Kinney has no plans to end the book series.
"What I've decided is that these books don't have to end," he said. "I've just realized that the DNA of these characters is in comic strips so they can live forever."
Story tags » BooksFamily

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