Middle School Perception: A Review of ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’

“The deeds you do may be the only sermon some people will hear today.” — St. Francis of Assisi

Reading Level:  

Grades 4-5 [according to common core]

Grade   5.2 [according to Scholastic]

Interest Level:  

Grades 3-8

Review and Comments:

Greg Heffley reluctantly begins a journal at the same time he starts middle school. The journal is a very detailed record of his private thought process, observations, desires, and schemes. The reader also learns that the journal is primarily a record of his life so when he becomes famous he will only have to reference this history to recall his life story.  From the beginning, he realizes the transition to a new school is an uncertain one and brings with it many challenges.  His anxiety is on high alert as he tries to tread lightly and yet at the same time survive and fit into the intimidating world called middle school.

Greg makes observations from an adolescent perspective.  First, he is sure where he sits in a class is crucial.  He scopes out the classroom on entering and carefully observes where other students sit in relation to his desk.  After all, this seating may be permanent for the entire year! Next, he decides to follow his older brother’s example and “set people’s expectations low so he can end up surprising them by doing practically nothing.” Then, he recognizes that the “rules of being popular” have definitely changed.  A nickname, a long-time friend, or one unfortunate event can be the cause of teasing and bullying for a very long time.  After some personal comparisons with others, he also ranks himself pretty average against all the boys who are popular with girls.

How can he improve his image and fit in?  Greg has plans – all based on perfect reasoning. He applies for the position of cartoonist for the school paper because he is sure that it will make him a celebrity. He also sees the school government election as treasurer as a way to help the cheerleaders. He applies for a position on the safety patrol for two reasons.  First, it will give him extra security from bullies.  Second, the job of escorting kindergarteners home will make him miss twenty minutes of pre-algebra.  This is a win win job!  He notices that the students who are recognized on the “Class Favorites” page in the year book are consistently admired.  He begins to devise a game plan that will ensure his enrollment as class clown. His advancement up the social ladder can only improve with his strategy.

All his schemes do not work out well for him and many times things just go wrong. A classmate reminds the teacher that the map of capitols is showing before a geography test begins so he does not pass the test and develops a grudge against the ‘snitch’. Greg makes up a game that causes his best friend to break his hand and his friend gets all kinds of attention and sympathy at school, even from the girls. During an Independent Study class the boys are deciding what their robot will look like and what it will be able to do. They make a list of bad words the robot will not be able to use plus 20 new words learned from another student. Unfortunately, the class is cancelled for the rest of the year after the teacher finds the list. He takes one of his brothers CD’s with a parental warning and listens to it but then is grounded for two weeks when his dad find out. He unwillingly tries out for the school play of the Wizard of Oz and is chosen to be a tree. And then the final defeat.  Even after all his effort, Greg’s best friend is chosen as the cartoonist for the school paper, and he is also named class clown! It has definitely been a painful year!

Middle school is a time of pushing boundaries and it’s not different for Greg. He struggles when making wise decisions even after considering the outcomes.  His dad wants him to spend more time being active outdoors instead of playing video games so he goes to his best friend’s house to play the video games. Then there is the infamous kindergarten caper.  Greg chases some kindergarteners with worms while taking them home, but his best friend is accused. He decides to let his friend take the blame and also lets his mom think he did the honorable thing of making the situation right. He does eventually lose his job on the safety patrol because truth wins in the end.

From the beginning of his story, with the explanation of the Cheese Touch to a confrontation with angry teens at the end of the year, Greg has some challenging experiences to grapple with. He loses a best friend and gains his trust again.  He has questionable intentions at times and pursues the next experience with middle school zeal.  He manages to stay away from teasing and bullying right up until the end. Greg Hefley is a boy who survives his first year of middle school but not without testing the limits of his world.

Greg not only writes very detailed accounts of his experiences, he draws cartoons that illustrate each situation, whether it’s his thoughts, desired results, or actual events.  The characters are simple stick figures with speech balloons.

The upper level of the suggested reading range is better for the subject matter in this book. I do not agree with the interest level beginning in third grade.  A third or even fourth grader may be able to read this book but enough of the subject matter is questionable that parents should read the book first to determine its suitability for their child.  Many situations in the book are humorous. The negative actions of Greg seem to be highlighted and reinforced with the attitude of that’s just the way kids act and the way things are. I hoped Greg would rise above his middle school mentality a little more often and show a bit of wisdom and growth throughout the year.  I hoped he would stand out as someone who would be different than the norm. Greg does show some courage at the end of his story when he protects his friend from future bullying by accepting a “rep” himself.  It is also good to see that he is held responsible for some of his actions by his parents and teachers.

Possible Issues:

  • The possible issues listed below are from Greg’s journal – written or illustrated.
  1. [Said about his mother] “But if she thinks I’m going to write down my “feelings” in here or whatever, she’s crazy.”
  2. “I’m in middle school with a bunch of morons.”
  3. [Illustration] “Outta my way, Runts!”
  4. “Next period, I should just sit in the middle of a bunch of hot girls ……..”
  5. “Now it’s all about the kind of clothes you wear or how rich you are or if you have a cute butt or whatever.”
  6. [Illustration expressing a comment made in elementary school] “Girls are stinky poos!”
  7. Greg takes a CD’s with parental warning from his older brother’s room.
  8. His little brother takes one of his big brother’s heavy metal magazines to school for show and tell. It shows a picture of a woman in a bikini lying across the hood of a car.
  9. Greg puts his video game with some violence in his little brother’s CD case entitled “Discovering the Alphabet” in order to get it past his friend’s parents.
  10. Illustration shows Archie Kelly being pushed in the hallway at school and taunted with the wrong nickname
  11. [A cartoon Greg draws as an example of his ability for the cartoonist job] “Doctor, could I have a new butt? My old one has a crack in it.”
  12. [Illustration] Another person wrote “Hey, Mr. Ira, you pooped your pants again.”
  13. Even though Greg sees the cruelty of teasing at school, he labels a boy in his neighborhood as the ‘weird kid’ and tries to avoid him.

Further Discussion:

  • This book was rated #1 by the New York Times Bestseller.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series #2-#9:

  • Here are ten steps parents can take to support a successful entry and passage through middle school.
  1. Understand that middle school is not elementary school.
  2. Identify and allay common entry fears of middle school.
  3. Expect early adolescent changes in your child.
  4. Supervise the completion of all homework.
  5. Support learning to function in a large secondary system.
  6. Declare your desire to be told about any social cruelty that occurs.
  7.  Inform your child about the normal changes that come with puberty.
  8. Enroll your child in social circles outside of school.
  9. Encourage the development of multiple sources of self-esteem.
  10.  Monitor and moderate the increased need for electronic communication (cell phone texting, computer messaging, and social networking.)

Adolescence and the Transition to Middle School by Carl E Pickhardt Ph.D.

  • Middle school can be an environment where students test their limits especially in front of peers. It can also be a time when students are “more socially aggressive” with one another while trying to find their way.  This can intensify social cruelty especially for students who are labeled as different.  Establish an understanding with your child that if he/she experiences any form of “teasing, exclusion, bullying, rumoring, or ganging up,” he/she will not suffer in silence but will report this to you so you can offer support and help.

Catholic Resources:

  • CCC 2258 Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
  • The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” [Mark 12:31]
  • In their 1983 document, The Challenge of Peace, the American bishops wrote: At the center of all Catholic social teaching are the transcendence of God and the dignity of the human person. The human person is the clearest reflection of God’s presence in the world; all of the Church’s work in pursuit of both justice and peace is designed to protect and promote the dignity of every person. For each person not only reflects God, but is the expression of God’s creative work and the meaning of Christ’s redemptive ministry.”