Jeff Kinney, author and illustrator of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series and University of Maryland alumnus, visited campus on Thursday to speak about his books and join a panel on issues surrounding literacy and motivating readers.
The panel, titled “Inspired Learning: Motivating Readers with Diary of a Wimpy Kid Author Jeff Kinney,” also featured faculty experts on literacy from the UMD College of Education.
Kinney was introduced by UMD President Wallace Loh and his mother.
He spoke on his life leading up to the publishing of his first book in 2007. During his days at UMD, Kinney was a cartoonist for the Diamondback. His character “Igdoof” gained popularity with students on campus.
“It was a great proving ground for me,” said Kinney. “At the time it was a daily paper and circulated to about 30,000 people.”
Kinney originally wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist but became a children’s author “on accident.”
“I never for a second thought I was writing something that kids might want to read one day,” he said.
Today, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” has 180 million print copies globally and has been translated into 52 languages.
All four members of the panel agreed that Kinney’s books appeal to children who struggle with finding the motivation to read. Allan Wigfield, professor at the UMD College of Education, said children relate to the story, unlike some books at school.
Particularly, the book series has appeal to children with developmental disorders. Kinney said he once met a young fan with Asperger’s syndrome who said “the pictures tell me how to feel.”
Katie Friedman, senior elementary education major, said illustrating is usually a reward for students once they finish writing but she “wonders what would happen if we let the kids draw the pictures first.”
Jennifer Turner, professor at the UMD College of Education, has seen positive results in the the students’ writing when they draw first.
Pictures in books have always been “little islands to swim to” for Kinney.
Rebecca Hefter, senior early childhood general and special education major, said that could work in her own classroom of third-graders. Reading from picture to picture allows the children to focus on the one passage at a time and “it will ground them to be successful.”
The panelists made suggestions to the many teachers in the audience for motivating young readers. Panelist Jade Wexler, assistant professor at the UMD College of Education, recommended using “good explicit instructions” and expanding on the vocabulary in more relatable books like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
“Some books are mirrors for kids,” said Turner and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is one.
Fans of the book series were lucky enough to meet Kinney after the discussion and get their books signed.
Three movies based on the book series have grossed $250 million internationally and a fourth movie is currently in production.
The new “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down” book goes on sale Nov. 1.