They also had the stage decorated with some of Kinney's drawings, which was a nice touch:
Kinney was very funny and endearing. He spoke about helping with his son's cub scout troop and initially wondering if any of the other boys would recognize him as the author of the books they loved to read. In one anecdote, Kinney shared that while introducing himself to a scout as "Mr. Kinney", the boy grew thoughtful and asked, "What's your first name?" When Kinney answered "Jeff", the boy looked at him and said, "Hey, you have the same name as the guy who wrote those books!" Kinney's response: "Yeah, I get that all the time."
Kinney gave his personal history leading up to the Wimpy Kid books - he had always dreamed of being a newspaper comic strip cartoonist, but realized early that he didn't, as he put it, have the talent. He said that his cartoons looked like they were drawn by a seventh grader, which wouldn't cut it in the competitive world of newspaper comic strips. But then he decided to use his drawing style to his advantage and draw from the point of view of a child.
Kinney said that he originally envisioned Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a "nostalgic book for adults." When a publisher convinced him it would be better suited to an audience of children, Kinney's first concern was whether the book would be appropriate for a young audience. But, in the end, few changes were necessary because Kinney has "PG sensibilities" to begin with.
After the first Wimpy Kid book was published, Kinney started receiving email after email thanking him for getting a "reluctant reader" to read. Kinney was unfamiliar with the terminology and was surprised that each email used the exact same term to describe kids who didn't usually like to read. He joked that later, he learned that "reluctant reader" is just "educational code for 'boys'." He showed some funny cartoons of books targeted to girls, including Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, of which Kinney said:
"I have no idea what that's about, I just know that it's like a toxin to boys."Calling books "such a superior form of entertainment", Kinney shared some of his favorite authors growing up: Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary, among others.
Kinney also shared some insight on his drawings in the Wimpy Kid series. "I don't know if anyone's noticed," he said, but each boy is drawn with distinct features that distinguish them from each other, but every girl looks the same. With this tactic, Kinney is communicating that Greg doesn't understand girls the way he does other boys.
The author also commented on some of the criticism he's gotten because the main character of the series, Greg, doesn't always make the right choices and isn't particularly a good role model for young boys. "My books do require a small bit parental or teacher guidance," he said, indicating that discussing Greg's shortcomings can open up the conversation between kids and adults about why Greg's decisions are good or bad and how the child in real life can learn from Greg's mistakes. Greg is flawed, yes, but that is all a part of portraying childhood and creating a character to whom children can relate.
I just loved Jeff Kinney's presentation and feel like the audience got a good sense of the author's childlike personality, love for children, and passion for cartoons.
Have you (or your children) read Diary of a Wimpy Kid? What do you think of Greg's capacity as a role model for children?