‘Wimpy Kid’ au­thor urges stu­dents to share their sto­ries

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Life - BY T. KEUNG HUI khui@new­sob­server.com T. Keung Hui: 919- 829- 4534, @nck­hui

It’s not easy get­ting some kids to read, but Jeff Kin­ney was cheered like a rock star on Mon­day when the au­thor of the best-sell­ing “Di­ary of aWimpy Kid” book se­ries paid a sur­prise visit to Hodge Road El­e­men­tary School.

The “Di­ary of aWimpy Kid” se­ries has sold more than 200 mil­lion copies world­wide, mo­ti­vat­ing many stu­dents to put down their video games to read. Kin­ney, an au­thor and car­toon­ist from Mas­sachusetts, is us­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of the se­ries to mo­ti­vate his fans to read books of all kinds.

“When­ever you go to the li­brary, pick out a book and say, ‘What do I want to be? What do I want to be good at?’ ” Kin­ney told the more than 200 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade stu­dents at Hodge Road. “I would look at your fu­ture when you look for your books.”

“Di­ary of aWimpy Kid” tells the story of Greg Hef­fley, who jour­nals his life as a mid­dle school stu­dent. His ex­pe­ri­ences are re­lat­able to many of his young read­ers.

“He has nailed what it’s like to be a kid,” said Nikki Ko­vach, the me­dia spe­cial­ist at Hodge Road El­e­men­tary. “He’s nailed the kid hu­mor.”

Ko­vach said the se­ries is so pop­u­lar among young read­ers that Kin­ney is as fa­mous to stu­dents as au­thor J.K. Rowl­ing was dur­ing the height of the “Harry Pot­ter” book craze. Cries of “it’s Jeff Kin­ney” came from some stu­dents when he first en­tered the school.

Mon­day was Kin­ney’s first visit to a school in North Carolina. Pre­vi­ously, he was among 269 au­thors and il­lus­tra­tors of chil­dren’s books and young adult books who had signed a let­ter in 2016 op­pos­ing House Bill 2, which re­placed lo­cal or­di­nances with a statewide nondis­crim­i­na­tion law that doesn’t in­clude sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity as pro­tected cat­e­gories. The law was par­tially re­pealed and re­placed in 2017.

Kin­ney, who is on a tour pro­mot­ing the new­est book in his se­ries, said he came to Hodge Road be­cause it’s an “un­der­served school.” Last school year, 77 per­cent of Hodge Road’s stu­dents qual­i­fied for fed­er­ally sub­si­dized lunches.

“It’s re­ally re­ward­ing to come to schools that might not or­di­nar­ily get au­thors,” Kin­ney said in an in­ter­view be­fore his pre­sen­ta­tion. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to show kids the jour­ney of be­com­ing an au­thor.”

Stu­dents ea­gerly waited Mon­day to talk with Kin­ney. Christo­pher War­ren, 10, a fifth-grader who was cho­sen to greet Kin­ney, said he’s read all but the lat­est book in the se­ries.

“I was pretty ner­vous,” Christo­pher said. “My whole dream was to meet him. I love his books.”

Kin­ney en­cour­aged the stu­dents to keep their own jour­nals. He told them the in­spi­ra­tion for the se­ries came from how he wrote about his own ex­pe­ri­ences as a kid.

“When I look at you guys, I think, ‘Wow, there are all th­ese kids with all th­ese funny sto­ries,’ ” Kin­ney said. “Imag­ine if you start writ­ing down the funny and in­ter­est­ing and maybe chal­leng­ing things that are hap­pen­ing to you in your life.

“You own your life story. Later on you can tell your story to maybe mil­lions of read­ers, so think about that.”

Af­ter an­swer­ing ques­tions from stu­dents, Kin­ney drew sev­eral char­ac­ters from se­ries us­ing an iPad, with the re­sults dis­played on a large screen.

Kin­ney in­vited stu­dents to come on stage as he gave them a quick les­son on draw­ing the char­ac­ters. He added a bit of a chal­lenge for Ken­dric Nixon, 8, a third­grader, by hav­ing him fin­ish a draw­ing of Greg with­out be­ing able to look at the screen.

“It was like typ­ing my first time,” said Ken­dric, who broke out laugh­ing when he saw the re­sult. “It was messed up.”

But Ken­dric en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence so much that he plans to ask his mom to buy all 13 books in the se­ries.

TRAVIS LONG tlong@new­sob­server.com@new­sob­ser

Third-grader Ken­dric Nixon re­acts to a draw­ing he made af­ter “Di­ary of A Wimpy Kid” book se­ries, au­thor Jeff Kin­ney chal­lenged Nixon to draw a char­ac­ter from the se­ries with­out look­ing at his hands on Nov. 5 at Hodge Road El­e­men­tary School in Knightdale, N.C., near Raleigh.

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