If you’ve ever been in the same room as a kid between the ages of 7 and 12, you’ve most likely heard of Jeff Kinney’s cartoon creation, eternal sadsack Greg Heffley—the original Wimpy Kid.
Greg is Everykid. He wakes up each day and braves the injustices of middle school, life as the middle child, and a permanently unimpressive status on the social scale. When he isn’t enumerating his nerdy best friend Rowley’s shortcomings, he’s keeping tabs on The Cheese (you’ll just have to read about it). We were all Greg at one point or another, but he gets to say the things we never could…and he says them hilariously.
While Greg can’t get ahead, author and illustrator Kinney has proven that Wimpy Kids don’t always finish last. The eight books in the series (not including the Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book and the Wimpy Kid Movie Diary…yes, there was also a movie) have routinely dominated the No. 1 spot on the bestseller list, with more than 115 million copies in print around the globe. The last book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck, sold more than 1.3 million copies in all formats in its first week, and had an initial print run of 5.5 million—putting Greg Heffley firmly in Harry Potter territory.
© Jonathan Beckerman
Kinney, who, amazingly, has kept his day job (at Poptropica.com), spent a relaxed stretch of time chatting with my son, Emmett, when he probably wanted to get home for Halloween prep with his own two kids. Emmett is a Wimpy Kid superfan, and Kinney spoke to him like his books speak to millions of kids: with humor, respect for his intelligence, and full appreciation of his curiosity. Kinney was, in a word, game.
Here’s their interview. Emmett wrote all the questions (up until the speed round) himself. Names you need to know are Rowley, Greg’s best friend; Rodrick, Greg’s bad-boy older brother; Manny, Greg’s kid brother, who knows how to work the system; Uncle Gary, Greg’s slacker uncle who moves in with the Heffleys; Bryce Anderson, the effortlessly popular kid at Greg’s school; and Lil Cutie, a massively embarrassing comic Greg definitely doesn’t like.
Jeff Kinney: Hi, buddy. I hear you’re 8. Is that true?
Emmett: Yeah. Thank you so much for being able to spare some of your time to talk to us today. I am 8. I actually am in third grade. And I really love your books.
As everyone does right now. My friends are super jealous that I get to talk to you today. I have some questions.
What do you think Rowley would say if he was interviewing you?
Oh, gosh. If Rowley was interviewing me? I think he’d ask why he’s been stuck in middle school for so long. And how could he get out of there.
Yeah. Yeah. Do you think you might actually write a book where Greg’s luck is better? Where maybe like a really cute girl might ask him out or something?
I don’t think so. I think you’re probably going to get a girlfriend before Greg does. But yeah, I think that Greg—it’s more fun if he doesn’t have good luck.
Yeah, that is true. That is true. I was just wondering.
Jen Shotz: You’re going to give me a heart attack if you talk about Emmett having a girlfriend.
Um, do you think you might write a book where Greg’s luck might even get worse, if possible?
Yeah, have you guys read this book yet? Did they give you a copy?
I think his luck definitely gets worse in this book. You know, they say that when you’re writing fiction, you should give your characters some problems and then keep piling on. And that’s what I’ve really done with Greg. I’ve really caused him a lot of problems and then I don’t let up. You know, it’s sort of more fun when your main characters are in trouble.
Yeah, yeah. Do you think Greg’s luck could get any worse?
I do in this book. You won’t actually believe what the characters do in this book. And I think you’ll find it really funny. Hopefully, if you like the other ones. Do you have a favorite book?
Yeah. Huh? Um, no, I don’t really like one any more than the others. I like them all. I really like them all.
Yeah. Oh, good. That’s good. That’s good for me to hear.
Jen Shotz: They’re so much fun. I heard—are they going on a road trip or something in this next book?
Yeah, it’s called The Long Haul, so I figured.
Yep. It’s all about a road trip. So they’re off in the world, and I think this book—I’ve got all five Heffleys in every scene, so it’s really different from the other books, because the characters are always doing something.
In my other books the characters kind of vanish from time to time, but in this book they’re there in every single scene.
© Jonathan Beckerman
Do you think Manny might finally get in trouble in one book that you might write?
Well, do you have a younger brother or sister?
Yeah. I have a younger sister.
Does she get in trouble much, or is she a little bit spoiled?
Um, she gets in trouble a lot, just like me. We both get in trouble a lot.
Oh really? Well you tripped me up with that one, because I thought that little brothers and sisters never got in trouble, so. I think that that’s different than the experience that I grew up with.
Yeah, my mom told me that you have a younger brother or sister.
I have a younger brother, right.
She also told me that you have two older brothers, is that right? Or sisters?
Yep, well, I have one older brother and one older sister. Yeah.
Yeah, okay. Do you think Manny or Rodrick are finally going to have bad luck maybe at one point?
I don’t know if Rodrick ever really has good luck. He’s not really on a winning streak.
Well yeah, I guess you’re kind of right about that.
Right. Well part of the fun of this kind of a thing is that the characters always reset, right? It’s that, if you watch one of your favorite shows on television—like do you watch Jessie or something like that?
Oh yeah, I like that show.
Yeah, if you think about it, the way the characters are in a television show like that, it’s that they always—they don’t change really. They always come back to—they behave the same way in each episode. And I think that’s very similar to cartoons. That cartoon characters usually—you know, Charlie Brown will always try to kick the football, and he’ll always miss. And I think that’s part of the fun of cartoon characters, is that they behave in a way that is reliable. So I don’t think that my characters will really change that much.
Yeah. Um, who’s your favorite character?
Who’s my favorite character? I think my favorite character is Rowley, because I like that—I like that Rowley likes being a kid. (JK takes a call from his wife about Halloween plans. He comes back on the line and asks Emmett about his costume.) What are you going to be today?
I’m going to be a hot dog.
Oh, a hot dog. I like that a lot. Have you ever played Poptropica?
It’s a big virtual world for kids. That’s what I do for my regular job. And you can dress up in a giant hot dog costume. It’s pretty cool.
Jen Shotz: So you were saying Rowley just loves being a kid?
Yeah, Rowley is not in a rush to grow up. I think that Greg is more like an ordinary kid where he wants to get to the next age. Because the next age means more freedom and things like that, more responsibility. And Rowley just likes being the age he is. So I like that about Rowley. I wish I was a little bit more like that as a kid.
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Uh huh. That makes sense. Do you think Greg might end up being popular again for a brief period of time, like the Stealth-o-nater incident? Where like, that story got twisted around about him getting trapped in the ladies’ bathroom at Laser Towers?
Right right. He—no, I think that—I’m not sure if he’ll have a moment like that again. We’ll have to see. I think that got a little bit out of control, so I think I’ll have to rein him in a little bit.
Yeah. What do you think Rodrick’s number on the popularity scale would be?
Oh, gosh. I guess—you know, he’d probably be somewhere in the middle. I think he’d be a little bit higher than Greg. For some reason juvenile delinquents are more popular than kids who play by the rules.
Yeah, yeah. What caused Bryce Anderson to be so popular exactly?
Oh there’s always that kid—and you’ll discover that as you get older. Maybe that kid will be you. There’s always some kid who always seems to be the most popular and all the girls like him and all that. Usually they’re athletic and all that. I was never that kid, so I created Bryce Anderson because we had kids like that when I went to school.
Yeah. Yeah. In my school, the two most popular kids are Sasha and Misha. Actually Alexander and Michael, but they like to call themselves Sasha and Misha.
And a lot of people like them. Misha’s in my class this year. I met Sasha in Kid’s Club.
Which is basically like, if somebody needs you to um—if somebody, like—wait, what am I talking about?
(Laughs) That happens to me all the time.
I get confused, like when I say something over and over.
Yeah, I do too.
Jen Shotz: We all do. Emmett, do you want to ask him about the girls?
Mom, I didn’t ask him that yet. [To JK]: Why do Greg and his dad not get along?
Why do Greg and his dad not get along? Um, I think that Greg’s dad maybe sees a little bit of himself in Greg. Maybe his father was a wimpy kid when he was growing up, and maybe he wants to change Greg. And that Greg is very difficult for him to change. So I think maybe that’s the friction there.
Uh huh. Yeah. Why do the girls only play Girls Chase Boys with the popular kids?
I think that’s another cruel reality of being a kid. You know, that used to happen to me a lot when I was little. All the girls would chase the popular boys, and I’d want them to chase me in the playground games, and they wouldn’t—
Oh, so that’s where you got that idea. I see.
Yeah, I got a lot of my ideas from real life experiences.
Jen Shotz: Are you saying that there’s hope for Wimpy Kids around the world?
Maybe. If they want to be cartoonists.
How would you react if Uncle Gary decided to move in with you, like he decided to move in with them?
You know, that’s so funny that you would ask that, because maybe my brother will move in with me one day. I think I would be welcoming at first, and then I’d really encourage him to get a job.
Yeah. Um, if my sister moved in with me—
I think I’d probably kick her out the second I got the chance. Maybe not. Maybe I would because she is very annoying sometimes.
She’s probably not as annoying as Uncle Gary, but—
I know. Families are complicated, that’s for sure.
Uh huh. What do you think Manny likes to do most: a) Steal Greg’s stuff; b) annoy Greg; or c) do both at the same time?
I’ll go with C.
Yeah. That would be my guess.
Because he’s smarter than you think, Manny is.
Are you still planning to write at least 10 books?
Yes, I’m definitely planning to write at least 10.
Well, I am very excited and glad of that—
What advice do you have for an older brother? Because I—yeah.
Remember that one day your younger sibling will probably be as big as you.
Yeah. I hope not, but—I definitely hope not. Anyway, um—
And also might move in with you.
Yeah, I hope not, because Amelia is always—Amelia, which is my sister’s name—
Amelia would probably—she’s always chasing me around the house hitting me with her belt. Well, she’s not hitting me with her belt—why did I say that? Anyway, she’s always chasing me around the house slapping me and hitting me with her clothes and taking her clothes off and hitting me with them, and chasing me around the house naked.
So I don’t—
I’m not hoping that she’s going to be as big as me one day. I’d say quite the opposite.
Yeah, that’d be difficult if she’s chasing you around—
I don’t think I’m going to want her to move in with me or be as big as me. No offense to her, but…
What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?
The naughtiest thing I ever did? I would say, I used to—when I was on the swim team, I used to go and hide by the—I’d pretend that I was at swim team practice, but I’d actually go to the creek and collect tadpoles in a plastic bag. And then I’d make it back just in time before my father came to pick me up. And one day, my father caught me. He got to the pool before I could get back. And so that was probably the naughtiest I was ever at that age.
Uh oh. If my dad caught me, that would be bad. Anyway, um, what’s the worst nightmare you’ve ever had?
My worst nightmare? I think I was being chased by the headless horseman. That one was pretty bad.
Ooh, God. That sounds very scary.
Jen Shotz: So we have a speed round for you, are you ready?
© Jonathan Beckerman
Jen Shotz: We understand that you grew up in Maryland but you now live in Massachusetts. We’re a big Patriots family in our house.
Oh yeah? Cool.
Jen Shotz: Here we go: This Sunday, Pats or Broncos?
I’m gonna say…I’m gonna go with, let’s say, Patriots. [Indeed, he was right.]
Jen Shotz: Okay. Do you think Tom Brady has one more Super Bowl in him?
Uh, I think that time—I hope so, but I’m not so sure. The odds aren’t very good.
Jen Shotz: Jogging or biking?
Jen Shotz: Football or baseball?
Jen Shotz: Minecraft or Candy Crush?
Jen Shotz: French fries or salad?
Salad these days.
Jen Shotz: But in your heart it’s French fries, is that what I’m hearing there?
Emmett: Milkshake or sundae?
What was your best Halloween costume?
Jen Shotz: Thanks so much for your time.
Thank you so much!
You’re welcome. Great questions!