Wimpy Kid Read-Alikes

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The most popular series in my school library was Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The copies would come back tattered, stained and well loved. They passed from hand to hand before I had time to check them in and out again. Many parents asked me to recommend a similar series so they could get their kids to read something – anything! – other than a Wimpy Kid book. I think it’s pretty wonderful that Jeff Kinney created a series to hook the most reluctant of readers, and I’m always happy to suggest titles that kids can move to next.

There are the three elements in the Wimpy Kid books that I believe make them so popular:

  • Humor
  • Realistic (usually cringe-worthy) life events
  • Hand drawn illustrations/cartoons

The following books have the trifecta: humor, realistic tween problems, and cartoon illustrations. I listed the series title first (if there was one) followed by the title of the first book in the series:

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  1. My Life Series: My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian — Twelve year-old Derek Fallon is crushed when he has to spend his summer at “Learning Camp.” Reluctant readers will particularly identify with Derek, and all readers will enjoy his adventures and sympathize with his humiliations. I feel like this series has a little more depth and heart than Wimpy Kid and highly recommend it.

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  2. Tom Gates: The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by L. Pichon — Tom Gates is a British version of Greg Heffley. You’ll find the same humor about school and home life. A glossary at the end helps readers understand some of the British terminology. In my library, this series was a huge hit with Wimpy Kid fans.

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  3. Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang by Amy Ignatow  — This journal format series chronicles the adventures of best friends Lydia and Julie as they attempt to uncover the formula for popularity. I think boys would love this series just as much as girls if they would give it a shot. It really bothers me that boys have been socialized to resist “girl” books, and I encourage parents to buy the book and cover it with a brown paper bag. Maybe then little dudes will be comfortable reading it.

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  4. Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell — I have to admit, I have not read this series myself. The reviews are mixed, with some saying the main character Nikki Maxwell doesn’t show enough growth over the course of the story. I included it because it’s hugely popular with female reluctant readers. I think it’s worth it for parents to check it out and see what they think.

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  5. Origami Yoda: The Strange Case of Origami Yoga by Tom Angleberger — Dwight, an odd kid in the sixth grade, starts making accurate predictions for his classmates by speaking through a finger puppet shaped like Yoda. This offbeat concept yields hilarious results and realistic portrayals of tween angst. Interestingly, Angleberger is the husband of the author/illustrator of book #6…

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    cover of the novel El Deafo

  6. El Deafo by Cece Bell — This memoir follows Cece Bell through her childhood as she adjusts to becoming deaf after a bout of meningitis. Reluctant readers will love the graphic novel format and Bell’s humorous take on her life-altering situation. Adults will appreciate the fact that the book has something important to say. I wrote more about the book here.

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  7. Charlie Joe Jackson: Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald — The title says it all. Charlie will go to great lengths to make sure he doesn’t have to complete a reading assignment. Hilarity ensures and reluctant readers will love him.

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  8.  Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce — Big Nate is another series that flies off library shelves. Like many of the main characters in this list, Nate is a ne’er-do-well who can’t seem to get a break. Big Nate is heavy enough on the humor and illustrations to hook reluctant readers.

I know many parents hope to get their children to read something more challenging than Wimpy Kid. Please note that this is not the purpose of my list. These are read-alikes to keep kids reading, especially kids who aren’t always thrilled to pick up a book. I like to tell people that I spent junior high reading every book in the Sweet Valley High series. I went on to become an English major, a librarian, and an appreciator of great literature (as well as seriously low brow books). I believe that it’s important to make reading a pleasurable experience for children. The hope is that this will lead them to more substantial literature and lifelong reading habits.

Fraidy Cat Writes a Thriller

3663663012_c4b06e1e63_bHistorically, I steer away from the horror and thriller genres and tend to read fiction where no one gets sliced, stalked or slowly driven insane. I blame my mother and Jack the Ripper for this aversion.  I grew up the 70s when people commonly had one TV in their home and mini-series were a huge deal (Roots, Thornbirds, *North and South, etc.). There was no way Mom was missing a juicy miniseries like Jack the Ripper. When I voiced my concern about having nightmares, she told me I had two options: watch or go to bed. At the time, I had cause to believe that a vampire lived in the drawer under my bed so I wasn’t going upstairs alone. I was a coward, but I wasn’t an idiot. Therefore, I watched and was scarred for life. My mom thinks this story is hilarious and responds by saying, “Well, you could have gone upstairs. It’s not like we had DVR back then so what did you want me to do, miss it?”

I know from experience as a school librarian that kids adore Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series. Ten year olds are aghast when I tell them I can’t get past the early scenes where someone’s head gets lopped off. I know what they were thinking: wimpy librarian. I can live with that. I’m thrilled to recommend the Grimm series to students who like their horror served with a head on a plate. Kids seem less bothered by gore, in general. To my credit, I did get through the spooky novel Behind the Bookcase by Mark Steensland, even though it totally creeped me out (as the author intended), and the young horror fans I handed it to were delighted with it. I also frequently recommend Seraphina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty.  Beatty succeeds in providing just enough chills (skin in gloves!) without being inappropriate or gratuitous, and even though I figured out the main mystery pretty early on, there was a later twist that I didn’t see coming. For me, that rarely happens with children’s books, and I thought he did a masterful job of plotting. I look forward to reading the sequel.

Like me, some children frighten easily, so you have to know your audience when you make recommendations. I usually ask kids directly, “Do you like scary books or do they give you nightmares?” They know their limits. Right now, I’m trying my hand at writing a young adult thriller. It was an idea that wouldn’t leave me alone and even though I’m a little scared to write it, these characters want to get on the page. I’m reading both adult and young adult thrillers so I can better understand the elements of this genre, and I started with Sister by Rosamund Lupton. The gore was minimal, but the suspense was gripping. Having a beloved sister, The Bean, I could relate to the main character’s drive to discover the truth. Some of the thrillers and mysteries I read in the past seemed to sacrifice character development in favor of complex plotting. Lupton’s characters were so well developed out that I found myself crying at certain points of the novel. I don’t think even the greatest plot can make you cry unless the writer fully invests you in the characters. I highly recommend reading Sister if you haven’t already.

I’ll write further updates on my foray into reading and writing thrillers. It’s getting late, and I need to check under the bed for vampires.

Photo credit: LuisRaa via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

*I’m pretty sure that when my mother bought me the book version of North and South, she was unaware that it was R-rated. She probably should have surmised it from the naughty bits in the TV version, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell her!