The write stuff

Jeff Kinney, author of the hit Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, visited Northwood Academy Charter School to talk to students about writing.

Book smart: On Nov. 8, Jeff Kinney, author and illustrator of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, visited Northwood Academy Charter School. Above, he is joined on stage by Northwood Academy CEO Amy Hollister. JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTOS

It’s not every day a world-renowned author makes a pit stop at a school, but Northwood Academy Charter School had the pleasure to host one last week.

On Nov. 8, Jeff Kinney, author and illustrator of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, delivered a presentation in the auditorium at Northwood, 4621 Castor Ave.

Students from grades 3–6 eagerly awaited in the auditorium that early afternoon for the arrival of the 46-year-old author.

Kinney’s presentation included showing the students his writing and illustration process, inspirations for writing the series and the opportunities that have come along with the books, but started off by giving a background on his formative years.

He stressed the importance that newspaper comic strips had on him growing up.

“The best day of the week was Sunday, because we got our color comics,” Kinney said. “I enjoyed comics like Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and Big Nate.”

The students may not exactly have related to the excitement of receiving the “color comics,” but shared their appreciation for the comic strips listed by Kinney.

Kinney continued detailing his background by stating how he spent his college years. He studied computer science and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, but his passion for comics did not wane.

“What I really loved doing was creating a comic for the school newspaper.”

Kinney’s “Igdoof” was a comic strip that he saw success with in college, but could not take this character to the next level. For three years, he attempted to get “Igdoof” syndicated, but kept getting rejected by various publications.

These rejections made Kinney recognize the shortcomings in his comics, but this gave birth to the character of what has made him published in over 45 languages.

“I realized I couldn’t draw well enough,” he said. “So I decided to draw like a middle-school kid on purpose.”

Kinney spent the next eight years on a new project, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The students were ecstatic as he showed them on the iPad how he goes about drawing the main characters for this beloved series.

As Kinney drew several of these characters and gave a few students the opportunity to do so, it was evident just how popular this story was for the students at Northwood.

Patrick Kahmar, a third-grade teacher, is in his second year at Northwood Academy and was not surprised with the knowledge displayed by the students on these books. Although Diary of a Wimpy Kid is not a required reading for his students, many of them still choose to read this.

“We do independent reading about a half-hour every day,” Kahmar said. “Even though some of those books are maybe a little high for their age range, the funny stories get them excited and pushes them to be better readers and check out the new vocabulary and things like that.”

Kinney showed the students a video that included many of the stops along his world tour promoting Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He shared a picture of him giving the first copy of the book in Latin to the pope and his family’s trip to the White House to meet the Obamas.

The students watched in awe at the places Kinney has been to promote the book and couldn’t help but feel special that Northwood was a stop along his travels.

Heather Hebert, manager of Children’s Book World, is responsible for Kinney’s stop in Northeast Philadelphia.

“Mr. Kinney was scheduled to do an event with our store, Children’s Book World, during his tour for The Getaway (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12),” Hebert said. “A week before the event, we received a call from his publisher, Abrams, telling us that Jeff had time in his schedule before our evening event and that he was interested in visiting a school in the area that does not normally have access to author visits.”

Hebert recommended Northwood Academy Charter School, and the plans were finalized.

As the manager of a book store, Hebert understands why children all over the world appreciate Kinney’s work.

“Jeff (Kinney) has a real understanding of all the uncertainty, the angst and the awkwardness of adolescence. He is able to communicate these emotions in a relatable way and often via hilarious situations,” she said. “The addition of cartoon drawings to enhance the text allows these stories to become accessible to readers that are often more reluctant to pick up a book.”

Kinney concluded his presentation by showing the students a picture of him holding the book while he was on his tour in Russia.

“I think of that book as a ticket,” he said. “That’s what got me to Russia, Singapore, Taiwan and all over the world.”

Kinney then encouraged kids to follow their dreams the way he has followed his.

“I guarantee you that everybody in this room has a talent that they can develop,” he said. “You’ll do something one day that will be your ticket to whatever is in your future.” ••