Rodrick Rules (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) by Jeff Kinney

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Rodrick Rules (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) by Jeff Kinney

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A troublesome term for our troublesome diarist, suffering at the hands of his older brother – and of course every adult around. The cartoon and diary format means the book is a breeze – but it's an insubstantial one.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 224 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Puffin
ISBN: 978-0141324913

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Greg is a wimpy kid, if the title of this franchise is anything to go by. He might just be right – starting swimming trials and only flailing about, holding his nose plugged in the water and worrying about the bullet from the starting pistol. His best friend at school is just about the only one he can manage to pick on – he's not the tallest, strongest or brightest kid, our Greg. Still, he can actually manage to make a classmate disappear, which is something.

The main problems Greg face are everyone else in his world. His older brother, drummer for a band classily named Loded Diper, has some major secret worth blackmailing him about. His mother is an embarrassment, seeing nothing wrong with joining in with Greg and his friends when they play a Dungeons and Dragons-style game. His main friend's father keeps chucking him out when he's round for a sleep-over. Is it Greg's fault his secret coded speech is so damnably easy to interpret, and so insulting?

Thus we ease through a term in the life of Greg, at school, at home, and going between the two dangerously wedged between the drums in the back of the Loded Diper band van. If you didn't see the original volume in this series, you will immediately find the house style to be quite unique. The pages are lined as per a journal, most of the text is in a hand-written font, and on practically every page there's at least one cartoonish illustration.

Those are very classy – simply, with the barest minimum of lines, portraying everyone in the story, with no doubt as to who's who or what their thinking and doing might be. It's evident rather quickly however that this is the most classy element to the book.

The story such as it is is rather episodic – there is the big reveal of the secret Greg's brother Rodrick knows, but before that there's no major arc, just a series of sketches and moods all designed to give the book a comedy of embarrassment style. And for me that comedy lacked a lot. There were a couple of touches that were slightly smile-raising, but I got to page 199 before almost being tempted to laugh.

The pictorial approach does mean this book is a very slender read, and I agree that might be what some young reader might just need to get them to pick the book up – but the sense of achievement they might gain in getting through 200pp and more in an hour and a bit will be easily earnt. I agree too that the target audience will get a lot more from this than I could. To me, however, I found this to be eminently disposable after one read. Moreover, I saw this book getting a stigma for older children when they arrive at secondary school age, and don't want to be seen with such a picture book.

I have always loved diary-styled books, from the Grosmith's Nobody to the series most recently featuring Stop in the Name of Pants! by Louise Rennison, but this failed to provide any major spark for me. Adrian Mole, even considering how much of it is topical (with priceless gags such as his finding the Falklands), still keeps Sue Townsend in her Spanish holiday home. So in a world with such successful alternatives, I was left quite wondering what had made this series such a global and long-lasting success.

There was nothing disagreeable about this book, and it might serve to entertain the 8+ age range, but I breezed through it finding no sense of surprise, no great comedic success, and certainly not the je ne sais quoi that might make it stand out. Jeff Kinney is a dab hand at his entertaining cartoons, but this second book in the series (with at least one more to come) was too really worthy of accompanying them.

We must thank Puffin Books for our review copy.

Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid Books in Chronological Order

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