Jeff Kinney is the author of the bestselling and award-winning Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which has more than 75 million copies in print worldwide. The seventh book in the series is “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever” (Amulet Books). Kinney says he knew he wanted to be a cartoonist from the early 1990s, when he attended the University of Maryland.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
From the 2009 National Book Festival
You knew you wanted to be a cartoonist when you attended college at the University of Maryland. What early experiences led to that decision?
Before I went to Maryland, I spent one year at Villanova University, where I created a comic strip called Igdoof. I loved the challenge of trying to make people laugh every week, and I was excited to try my hand at a daily comic strip.
What sparked your imagination for your Diary of a Wimpy Kid series?
I wanted to write a story about an ordinary life filled with humor. I think that everyone could write a book like Diary of a Wimpy Kid if they could remember all of the funny things that happened to them as kids.
Can you tell us about your newest book - Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days?
My next book, set to come out this October, is about Greg's summer vacation. It was a lot of fun to write this book, because up until now, all of my stories have centered around the school year.
What challenges do you face in your writing and cartooning? How do you overcome them?
Writing is an enormous challenge for me. It takes me about four hours to write one joke... I'm very slow! So the biggest challenge for me is time management. I also have a full time job and am working on a Wimpy Kid movie.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to become a future cartoonist?
My advice would be to become your own toughest critic. I throw out about 95% of what I write, and what remains is my best material.
Can you suggest a fun activity to get them started?
I recommend that kids copy their favorite comic strips. That will give them an understanding of how a cartoonist created his or her work, which is a valuable tool to have when creating original material.
Do you have any favorite children or teen books?
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume. I also loved Piers Anthony's Xanth series as a pre-teen.
How important is research in the development of your books? Can you explain the process as well?
I think it's good to have an understanding of classic cartoons, but I Think that if you're too indoctrinated, it might be hard to come up with something fresh and original.
What is your advice to parents for passing the joys of reading on to their children?
My advice for parents is to try to find out what their kids are interested in reading, and take their cues from the kid. With so many entertainment options out there, kids won't read unless something holds their interest.
If you weren't creating children's books, what do you think you would be doing?
I'd be doing what I do as my full time job... I'm an online virtual world creator.
Do you have a website where young people can learn more about you and your work?