Oh boy. This is going to be…interesting.
So in case you don’t know already, Jeff Kinney announced something of a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book earlier this month, a spinoff-type book called Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid that is told from Rowley’s point of view and will be released in April, right on time for Diary of a Wimpy Kid‘s birthday. Now, Greg got some pretty good attention during November’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade compared to the year before. And I finished The Meltdown, and thought it was fine. Things were going so well, yet now thanks to this, we now have proof that the Diary of a Wimpy Fall isn’t ending anytime soon.
I know that I made a promise to keep my Diary of a Wimpy Kid posts in a positive light from now on, and that’s why I’m pretty late on talking about this. Kinney is just making this so hard, as I was among the many fans who didn’t exactly welcome this book with open arms. So I will do my best to sound as positive as possible, despite the fact that I think this book is probably a bad idea. Arguments can be made for its existence, especially if it’s fine, but that doesn’t mean we needed this. This now gives Kinney an excellent excuse to amplify his ongoing oversaturation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, while Poptropica remains in the back burner as next year’s shutdown of Flash looms ever closer.
It won’t be easy sounding as friendly and awesome as Rowley, but it’s time to get into this update on the wimpy decline.
Origins: Diary of Greg Heffley’s Best Friend
It should be noted that the concept of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid has already existed in some form. Some fans may recall a section in the current light brown edition of the Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book (not the original orange edition that predated the orange cover to The Long Haul, which I own) that has the same exact title and a title page that is similar to this new book’s cover.
But it may not be as known that there was also a 112-page short story book called Diary of Greg Heffley’s Best Friend. Released in October 2018, it was only available to those subscribed to Scholastic Book Clubs. It’s also going to be released in the UK in February as part of World Book Day. Given its limited release, I don’t own a copy, though I did come across a young child reading it before the announcement of Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid. So I was curious to know if this meant anything and that it would become something more. And of course, it did.
With the announcement of the book this month, we got the official synopsis, a sneak peek of the first few pages and some promotional images. Let’s start with the synopsis:
Get ready for a whole new look into Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid! Introducing the newest Wimpy Kid author—Rowley Jefferson! Rowley’s best friend Greg Heffley has been chronicling his middle-school years in thirteen Diary of a Wimpy Kid journals . . . and counting. But it’s finally time for readers to hear directly from Rowley in a journal of his own. In Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid, Rowley writes about his experiences and agrees to play the role of biographer for Greg along the way. (After all, one day Greg will be rich and famous, and everyone will want to know his life’s story.) But Rowley is a poor choice for the job, and his “biography” of Greg is a hilarious mess. Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid: Rowley Jefferson’s Journal offers readers a new way to look at the Wimpy world—one fans won’t want to miss!
There is a LOT to take in here, but let’s dissect it in order. First off, the words “thirteen Diary of a Wimpy Kid journals . . . and counting” are exactly what they sound like. It was indeed confirmed that even with this book getting released, we are still getting the 14th book in the main series this Fall. This means that it’s probably taking Kinney even less time to work on the 14th book, even compared to The Meltdown which was released in October instead of November. And however this is going to effect the book’s quality is anyone’s guess.
Now for what it’s worth, I do like the premise of Awesome Friendly Kid itself, and there’s promise here. Rowley writing Greg’s biography before turning on him and writing his own journal? It’s not bad at all. It’s a bit of a callback to Rodrick Rules when Rowley tries to copy Greg by writing in his own “diary”. Greg was upset about that even then, hitting Rowley in the arm when he proposed that they be called the “Diary Twins”. And this brings me to the problem of Awesome Friendly Kid‘s existence.
Despite Greg being the protagonist of the main series, he isn’t very likeable, but this gives Kinney the chance to fix these negative aspects of Greg by of course, telling good stories. Rowley on the other hand is a lot more likeable than Greg, to the point that if the first book was told in the third person (and not in its unique first person journal format), Rowley would actually be the protagonist instead because Greg’s actions would deem him the antagonist. If you really want to get into the problem of Greg’s character, Greg is only able to get away with being the hero of the story because its his story, as he was given the right to declare himself the hero. And whether or not he chooses to prove himself as the hero is what makes the books worth going back for. Now that Rowley is running the show, we’re going to see just how unlikable of a character Greg actually is, and that’s a shame. In fact, it’s already very evident in the sneak peek. I’m not going to assume that Greg will be antagonistic throughout the whole book, but from the looks of things, it probably won’t have his best moments.
Another obvious problem is the art style. I get that it’s supposed to be Rowley’s art style, just like how the illustrations of the main series are supposed to be Greg’s. But the issue here is that Greg’s art style is basically Kinney’s, and Kinney’s art style is already quite simple. With Rowley’s art style, Kinney is modifying how he draws to make Rowley’s art believable, but he did it by making Rowley’s drawings even simpler than Greg’s. Because of this oversimplicity, having Rowley’s illustrations carry an entire book has proven to be a pretty tough sell. You can only get so far with an art style that is so simple, and Kinney overdid it here. To be fair, several legacy children’s book series of Diary of a Wimpy Kid do share the simplified illustrations of Awesome Friendly Kid to varying degrees. For me, the My Life series immediately comes to mind, with the illustrations basically being stick figures. Even so, Diary of a Wimpy Kid set a higher bar for its drawings than those of My Life, and Awesome Friendly Kid shouldn’t have lowered it.
Now the promotional images, particularly this one on the right, give us a surprising insight into just how far Abrams is willing to go to oversaturate the series. It was revealed that Awesome Friendly Kid was the result of a deal negotiated by Charles Kochman, Abrams editorial director and the man responsible for finding and publishing Kinney in the first place. He is shown giving Rowley, or Kinney, an offer he can’t refuse if he makes Awesome Friendly Kid and stays away from Poptropica: money. Abrams will continue to keep it for themselves and bribe Kinney into making more books for more money, instead of sharing the money with Sandbox and saving Poptropica from its problems. Abrams President Michael Jacobs is in on it too, as he helps to glorify the questionable novel by praising Rowley’s story. But it’s his statements off the image that’s really telling:
Publishing Rowley Jefferson’s side of the story is truly AWESOME! Jeff Kinney’s power to excite, engage, and expand his fans’ worlds is evident in the amazing sales of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which has made reading fun for millions of kids around the globe. Now, that experience will be doubled with the introduction of Rowley Jefferson’s own voice. I can already hear the kids, parents, educators, and booksellers shouting with joy and delight. We, at Abrams, are thrilled to be bringing this book to market!
Except Jacobs is forgetting that Kinney has been “expanding his fans’ worlds” in FAR better ways in the Poptropica islands he used to produce, so I was surprised he used those specific words. He’s also forgetting that with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid experience doubled, the Poptropica experience is halved. And I can already hear the kids, parents, educators, and booksellers shouting with outcry and horror when they learn next year that Poptropica shut down.
And What Does This Now Mean For Poptropica?
As for what’s been happening with Poptropica lately, the situation is more or less the same. The developers still haven’t released a new island since Greek Sea Odyssey in Poptropica Worlds in February 2018 and my last Diary of a Wimpy Fall post in April. In fact, development on Worlds has actually stagnated in favor of making minor updates to the original game, after the developers revealed that they have an undisclosed plan to keep the original game going after the Flash shutdown:
We’re working on making sure that Poptropica stays around long past 2020! The amazing Poptropica creators are hard at work on new updates to the technology and the game for all our loyal fans!
While this kind of undoes the point of Worlds, it’s nonetheless great news to hear. But the fact that we know little about this plan isn’t terribly reassuring. And even if the original game does survive the shutdown, things need to change for both the original game and Worlds (since Worlds is already here), as fan reaction to these minor updates leave much to be desired.
This includes changing the login screen (which I felt was mostly unnecessary and will personally miss), redesigning the friends page (which has new features but lost its old ones), and putting the Poptropica Store in an endless monthly cycle of recycled items that do include formerly retired items, but also have price hikes and randomly assign which items are for members for some reason. On a more positive side, pets are coming to the game (after not delivering in Worlds), as well as massive updates to Home Island that include the player getting their own home (which was delivered in Worlds).
Recently, fan theories on what’s happening behind the scenes have been rampant. Some believe that because of the layoffs of Mitch Krpata, Nate Greenwall and Lance Fry, Worlds has become too difficult to keep developing and StoryArc is shifting their strategy back to the original game. This of course leaves Worlds in a strange place as a game of vast unrealized potential, in which Kinney’s continued absence is only to blame. And with Kinney likely about to spawn a series from Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid in addition to continuing the main series, we can definitely expect these minor so-so updates to continue until Poptropica’s fate is decided with next year’s Flash shutdown.
Will I get Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid the day it comes out? Probably not. Given that this is a spinoff, I’ll consider my streak of getting these books on the release date unbroken, and I’m not terribly interested in filling my bookshelf with an unexpected new series that I don’t even fully support. But hey, I’ll always love Kinney’s work, and I’ll probably still buy a digital copy out of curiosity to see just how good it ended up.
All I can say at this point is that I hope things start improving for both of these properties, whether sooner or later. Until the narrative of this Fall continues, folks.