“We’re working really hard to keep Nikki the girl next door,” Rachel Renée Russell told PW, while discussing her middle-school protagonist’s latest adventure: Nikki Maxwell and her band are followed by a reality television show crew for a month as the group rehearses and records their hit song in Dork Diaries 7: Tales from a Not-So-Glam TV Star (S&S/Aladdin, June). “We didn’t want her to become Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez,” Russell added. “It’s not Chicago or L.A. – it’s a local television show.”

But that doesn’t mean that Russell and her two daughters, Erin, who helps write the books, and Nikki, who illustrates them, can’t travel like rock stars. Here, they pose in Chicago beside the luxury bus outfitted for them by Simon & Schuster. Russell celebrated the release of Dork Diaries 7 by touring the Midwest for a week (June 3–10). “I’m super-excited to be heading out to the Midwest,” the northern Virginia resident told PW in May. She grew up in Michigan, so it was a homecoming of sorts for her. “I’m very familiar with Chicago and Wisconsin, some of the places we’ll be visiting,” she said.

The bus tour kicked off at Prairie Elementary School in Naperville, Ill., where Russell’s fans dressed up to better experience all things Dork during an event co-sponsored by Anderson’s Bookshops. A DJ spun tunes during Dork dance parties, as Russell’s fans participated in Dork-themed activities, including a prize wheel, karaoke, and a Dork Diaries photo booth.

Nikki, for whom the series’ protagonist was named, connected with a young fan at Edison Elementary School in Morton’s Grove, Ill., also co-sponsored by Anderson’s. The Dork Diaries are “funnier and wittier” and “the characters are drawn a lot better and are dressed a lot better” since her two daughters began officially assisting her, Russell told PW. “The clothing the characters wear now – it’s stuff you’d see at the mall.”

Russell’s readers, like these fans at Parkway South Middle School in Chesterfield, Mo., got an added Dork treat during stops on the tour: Nikki drew larger-life caricatures of them. “OMG!” as Nikki Maxwell would say.

Some fans stopped dancing and partying long enough to get copies of their books signed in Kansas City, Mo., at the Unity Temple on the Plaza. The event was co-sponsored by Rainy Day Books.

Barnyard animals can be Dorks, too, these two bookstore chickens seemed to be saying, as they begged the Russell trio for attention during the signing at Wild Rumpus Books in Minneapolis.

At each school stop, including this one at Arlington Hills Community Center in St. Paul, Minn., co-sponsored by Addendum Books, fans were encouraged to write messages to and about Nikki on rolls of paper that were meant to simulate school lockers. Nikki Maxwell’s locker is next to that of her arch-enemy, MacKenzie Hollister.

A Dork Diaries roadie keeps an enthusiastic crowd of middle schoolers entertained at the Greenfield Public Library in suburban Milwaukee on the last stop of the tour, co-sponsored by Boswell Book Company.

Russell claims that her “trials and tribulations” in middle school, as well as those of her two daughters, inspired her to write the Dork Diaries series as an adult. She also insists that she is “still a dork.” Well, if that’s true, she certainly has everybody fooled: not only has the series sold 15 million copies since the first book, Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life, was published in 2009, but Lionsgate Films recently optioned the series for the movies. (Is Tales from a Kind-of-Glam Hollywood Celeb in the works?)

All photos: Hayley Gonnason and Kim James.