After reviewing the reading list and paying a visit to the local library, I landed a copy of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. Although the word “diary” in the title signaled something along the lines of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, or at least a chapter book, Wimpy Kid turned out to be neither.
The book is set up like a journal that has comic strips interspersed. In the video below, Jeff Kinney talks about how the book started online, allowing tens of millions of young people to read his books.
Frankly, I found the book entertaining, but I questioned its literary value. As a graduate student, I get to do things like question a book’s literary value. As a classroom teacher, I might not always be extended that luxury. So I consulted with a teacher friend whose opinion I respect. She has worked as a graduation coach and pointed out that this book series has prompted students to read who were “not apt to read before.”
I dug further and found resources that made me think this book might also prompt students, who were not apt to write before, to write. Turns out, this might be a mentor text that’s tailor-made for students in a Title I classroom.
- Start by asking students what comes to mind when they hear the word “diary.” Then ask what comes to mind with the word “journal.” Are the two the same?
- Go online and visit the first page (click here) in the original Wimpy Kid book, which provides the distinction between a “diary” and a “journal.” Explore the page together, and discuss students’ perceptions of a “journal” again.
- The Wimpy Kid books provide a good range of ideas for journal topics. They model ways for students to write about their lives. Have students peruse these books – either the print books, or the online books. What do the characters in these books write in their journals? Students should generate at least a short list of journal ideas.
PROFESSIONAL CAUTION: I feel obligated to mention that some of the content in these books also models ideas that teachers may want to monitor, such as anti-school sentiments and bullying. These are authentic middle school issues. While I would prefer to use the books to mentor students in writing about these issues, the books may mentor students in dabbling with these issues. Just a caution. I feel better, having said that.
- Talk about Kinney’s experiences in publishing these books online. Why did he resist publishing them online? What are advantages to publishing online? Discuss the role of technology and publishing. This might be a good time to discuss the appropriateness of posting various kinds of information online.
- This mini-lesson aims to help students feel comfortable with journaling, understand some topics for journaling, and to establish some basic parameters for what to share in journals – including anything shared in an online context (journal or otherwise). Additional resources for the Wimpy Kids books and for journaling are available here.