If Jeff Kinney has faith in one thing, six months into the new coronavirus outbreak, it is the importance of even the smallest moments of human connection. Driven by that sentiment, the bestselling author of the Wimpy Kid series will personally hand off signed copies of his new book, Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure (Abrams/Amulet, Aug.), in what very well may be the first multi-stop, in-person, socially distanced book tour by a children’s author since the virus began to spread.
It is a tour designed to connect with kids and also celebrate independent bookstores. Beginning August 4, Kinney will jump in an “Awesome Friendly Adventure” van filled with books and drive to eight indies in the northeast corridor, including Word Up Community Bookshop in upper Manhattan; Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa.; BookTowne in Manasquan, N.J.; and Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vt.
“I can’t wait to connect with my fans and meet real Awesome Friendly kids along the way,” Kinney said. “I hope the tour will bring readers some much-needed celebration and positivity in the spirit of Rowley and his Awesome Friendly Adventure.”
Each stop on the tour will feature a drive-through book line. As each child pulls up with a parent, Kinney will be there to greet them with a signed book. “I think I have a 96-inch grabber to hand them the book,” Kinney told PW with a laugh. “That way we leave no doubt about social distancing, and hopefully, mom or dad will get to snap a picture out of the window.”
The book is the second in a series that follows Wimpy Kid protagonist Greg Heffley’s friend Rowley and was originally slated for release in April. With three million copies already printed, Kinney and the team at Abrams stopped trucks in transit and delayed the release.
“Our primary concern was around the welfare of independent bookstores,” Kinney said. “We didn’t feel like it was fair for the book to come out at a time when stores couldn’t sell the book.”
In the months since, indies have gained an increasing online foothold, and many have reopened or are planning to do so. That includes Kinney’s own bookstore, the Plainville, Mass.-based An Unlikely Story, which will reopen to appointment-only shopping on August 3. In the meantime, Kinney and his bookstore staff have had time to experiment with different types of virtual events, as well as a drive-through signed book pickup following a June 24 reading by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s from their picture book Grandma’s Garden (Philomel).
Kinney is calling each bookstore on the tour an “anchor” because each will be a starting place for a series of stops at every location. With a van full of extra signed copies, he plans to drop in on other independent bookstores as a surprise. He is also planning a series of short visits directly to a handful of children.
“We’re going to be driving to the homes of kids whose parents have been frontline workers during the health crisis,” Kinney said. “We’re going to give those kids special attention and goodie bags and things like that. Hopefully that will bring a little joy to their day.”
Despite the challenges that the coronavirus has dealt out, Kinney said he believes the tour is a chance to share positivity far and wide. “We’re all just trying to adjust to the new world that we’re in,” he said, “but my message to kids is that the world is going to go right side up again, and all these things they could do before, they will be able to do again. It’s just a matter of when, and in the meantime, I hope that we can all enjoy each other’s company.”
While on the road, Kinney will be keeping an eye out for what works well about the tour as he prepares for the October 27 release of The Deep End, the 15th book in the Wimpy Kid series. At the same time, he will also be working to meet his deadline for the 16th book in the series.
“I’ll be writing and illustrating as I’m going,” Kinney said. “The van has just enough room for books and a table, so you’ll see me parked along a rest stop in a van full of books, seriously drawing.”