Calling all cartoonists! Last week, the latest addition to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Do-It-Yourself Book, went on sale with a 500,000-copy first printing. The fill-in-the-blank journal-style book consists of activities and questions for kids (“Have you ever been bitten by an animal? Have you ever been bitten by person?”), as well as blank pages for kids to write and draw on, like the young hero of Kinney’s series, Greg Heffley.

“It ends up being a really weird book,” acknowledges Kinney of the book’s unusual format, with a 16-page color comics insert separating the activity section and lined blank pages. “We’d conceived of it as a blank journal originally, and then I had the horrifying thought of kids seeing that there was a new Wimpy Kid book out and opening it up and finding blank pages. I wanted to create a My Book About Me [by Dr. Seuss] for an older generation. It’s really like a time capsule of the kid’s life.”

Kinney hopes that the book will inspire kids to write and draw, and believes the content created for the Do-It-Yourself Book—jokes, questionnaires, activities—might help them do so. “I think if we gave boys just a blank journal there’d be no hope of them filling it up,” he says. “Boys especially don’t do any journaling and diary-keeping at this age, so it’s a way to have them create something of value and hopefully it will be a muse at the same time.”

Kinney signing copies of his latest
Wimpy Kid book at the recent
Baltimore Comic-Con.

Kinney also wanted to make the book feel like a natural extension of the Wimpy Kid series. “I’ve seen lots of products related to a property that’s doing well where the activity books are just awful—crossword puzzles, word scrambles and very generic kinds of activities,” he says. “It was important that the jokes be worthy of the series.”

Fittingly, Abrams is supporting the book with a national contest that runs through January, which invites kids to submit comics of their own. Details are available on the Wimpy Kid Web site. The grand prize—for what is determined to be the funniest comic—will be a school visit from Kinney, who will also “wimpify” the winning entrant’s family in a framed comic. “One of things I’ve had a big struggle with is that I have to turn down most every school invite, mostly because I have a fulltime job and couldn’t possibly keep up with requests,” Kinney says. “It’s great to feel like I’ll be able to visit one in a meaningful way next year.”

Kinney beneath a poster
for next January's
Diary of
a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw,
at BEA in Los Angeles
earlier this year.

The author’s fall has already been fairly busy, with a recent appearance at the Baltimore Comic-Con (where Abrams sold out of 350 Wimpy Kid books), and upcoming events at Boston College and the Miami Book Fair. Kinney says he hears from children that his books marked the first time reading “didn’t feel like work” for them, and adds that he often gets emails from parents, many times from those with dyslexic children, thanking him for books that have engaged their children. “I honestly never set out for this to be a force of good in the world,” he says. “I was just trying to write a book of jokes to make people laugh. But it feels like the books might be a gateway drug to more legitimate reading, and I feel good about that.”

The third book about Greg Heffley, The Last Straw, arrives in January, and the author says that the film being developed by Fox 2000 (“mostly live action with some animated sequences”) is progressing as well.

As to where the series might go next, Kinney says he’s open to additional detours from the planned five titles, such as a book consisting entirely of cartoons written by Greg and his friends. “I’ve signed on for five and I’d like to do seven if I have the material,” he says. “I’m aspiring to make these books the type of books that stick around. That’s my highest ambition—to make sure I put out a series of high quality books.”