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Jeff Kinney makes me the Best Mom in the Universe

I was on a panel not long ago with my friend Katja Presnal, and she commented on how even though making a living is the goal of many mom bloggers, sometimes the experiences we have are worth much more than money. And when our kids are involved in those experiences, they’re just priceless.

I was already a big enough hero to my kids last week when I let them skip a half day of school to see a press preview of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. But when they got to meet Jeff Kinney, author of the Wimpy Kid books, I basically became the greatest mom in the universe.

Jeff Kinney (4)

Getting to interview Jeff Kinney at a post-screening round-table was exciting for me as well, despite the fact that I’ve never read any of the Wimpy Kid books. My son Jake is obsessed with them. He’s read every one probably a dozen times at this point. He can recite whole passages. So when I found out from Jeff Kinney himself that he never intended to write the books for kids, I was floored!

Jeff Kinney could easily be mistaken for a Mormon missionary if you happened upon him outside of a press junket. Soft spoken, gentle, humble, and still a bit bewildered by the entire phenomenon, he was one of the most pleasant people I’ve ever talked to in my life. The hero of elementary and middle school boys everywhere (and their parents who want them to be enthusiastic readers), Mr. Kinney was asked about his status among tween boys:

I think that they would be disappointed if they saw me in real life. I really didn’t write these books for kids. I was trying to write one big fat book for adults. I worked on it for about eight years. And then, my publisher said that they thought that I’d written a children’s series.

It was kind of a shock to my system, after working for that long. For the book to go out into the world as a kids’ series, and for it to be successful has been…it feels like the Truman Show. Nothing feels real to me.

I was interested in how much he had to change the books from his original concept, a Wonder Years-like nostalgic look back at childhood, when they were going to be published for kids instead. Surprisingly, he said he didn’t have to change much at all.

My sensibilities are very G rated anyway. I’m obsessed with not creating anything bad in the world. I’m shocked that I couldn’t see that I was writing for children all along.

There’s a great Steven Wright line where he says, “I wrote a children’s book, but I didn’t do it on purpose.” And that’s what happened to me, too.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is all about family relationships. The oldest brother torments the middle brother, the middle brother is trying to survive at home and at school, and the little brother just annoys both of them. Mom is doing her best to get the two older siblings to get along and become friends, and dad…well, dad seems to think they’re all a little nuts. Jeff Kinney talked a bit about how his childhood and his own sons influenced the books, how much was autobiographical and how much is pure fiction.

I can’t even tell myself anymore. There’s definitely a lot of my own experience baked into these stories, but then it’s been through the wash so many times that I can’t even really remember what’s true and what’s not. Then, you have screenwriters who are reinterpreting things a little bit. So, it’s a real mix of fact and fiction.

I look at my sons. While they’re playing their Nintendo DSs, they’re lying across each other on the couch, and I think, “This is either the seeds of a great relationship, or it’s going to be a disaster later on.” They seem like a really good match and that’s exciting to see as a parent.

The mom in the movie totally reminded me of, well, me. She comes up with a very sincere, well-meant plan to help her boys get along, and even though everyone else can see that it’s going to be a disaster, she believes in it 100%.

Rachael Harris does a great job as the mom. She’s sweet and misguided in some ways. Some of my ideas for Diary of a Wimpy Kid come from my own wife. We’ll plan a big birthday party with all of my son’s friends, then my wife will send out a note to everybody that says, “No toys, please, but you can bring a book.”

I’m sure when my son gets a stack of books on his sixth birthday that he will be thrilled with that. That’s something that [the mom in the movie] definitely would do.

While Mr. Kinney insists that most of the time his life is completely ordinary, with cub scouts and dog poop and his day job (he’s the creator of poptropica), he does occasionally get to step into this alternate universe of movies and awards and publicity. It was interesting to hear that mombloggers aren’t the only ones who struggle with exposing their kids to the public.

People Magazine came by and did a profile. They wanted to take a picture of my kids, and I think about the mom blogs and the parenting blogs that say K1 and K2, which has some strangeness to it. But, I said to myself, you know what? I have kids. It’s a fact in my life that I have children. They have names and they have faces.

It was a real pleasure to talk to Mr. Kinney. Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules opened today, March 25th. My son proclaimed it to be better than the first movie and the first five books combined. If that isn’t a whopping endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Diary of Wimpy Kid 2 poster

Originally posted on Selfish Mom. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 1. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn, Behind the Screen, and Momtourage, and podcasts with The Blogging Angels.

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3 Responses to “Jeff Kinney makes me the Best Mom in the Universe”

  1. Denise Traynor on March 26th, 2011 6:33 pm
    1

    wow-what lucky kids. I read a good chunk of the book when Jake left it at my house. I loved it.Hay Jake, may i borrow it back sometime?

    Amy Reply:

    @Denise Traynor: Was it the first one? I’ll try to remember to pack it!

  2. Jane on March 28th, 2011 2:34 pm
    2

    Yeah, looking forward to seeing it.