“Diary of a Wimpy Kid” author Jeff Kinney inspires students at two Loudoun schools
At that moment, he was the envy of every teacher in the room.
That’s because he had just unveiled a cartoon image known to almost every school child seated before him: a drawing of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” character Greg Hefley.
“Has anyone ever seen this face before?”
As if Kinney had to ask.
A cheer went up from smiling faces of almost all the students in the room at Kenneth Culbert Elementary School in Purcellville on Monday morning.
And it brought an even bigger smile to Kinney.
Kinney, 43, author of the fantastically successful “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, was back on the road on his ninth book tour - this time to launch “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” which published this month.
And he was in his element.
Kinney arrived in the style reminiscent of a teen pop star – a large orange bus adorned with illustrations from his new book.
Kinney’s brother and family live in Loudoun – his older brother, Scott, owns Shamrock Music Shoppe in Purcellville and helped arrange for Jeff to visit two Loudoun schools, Kenneth Culbert Elementary and Blue Ridge Middle School.
The visit was a surprise to students and teachers – only the principals and a few key event organizers were in the loop.
“This is such an incredible ‘wow’ factor that nobody knows about it,” said Jackie Brownell, principal of Kenneth Culbert, before the bus pulled up to the school. “They will be so surprised and we are excited.”
The program showcased the overall theme of following dreams – setting goals, overcoming obstacles and inspiring others to do the same.
First on stage was Katie Butterfield, a 10-year old student at DG Cooley Elementary School in Clarke County, and a trumpet student at Shamrock. She has been diagnosed with osteoporosis, which limits her physical activities.
Her great-grandfather was a famous trumpet player who performed with Louis Armstrong. Playing the trumpet has been transformative for her, and, as a huge fan of the “Wimpy Kid” series, Butterfield was invited to play a song to illustrate how music is a gift.
“It is so meaningful to the kids to make a connection with peers that if you put your mind to doing something, you can do anything,” Brownell said.
Next, Scott Kinney introduced two Harmony Middle School students, Spencer Tarbet and Spencer Bergman. They were selling lemonade last summer in Round Hill when they were robbed.
The boys were trying to earn money for summer camp and to purchase a puppy.
That summer afternoon, after they were robbed, Tarbet went to his music lesson at Shamrock and found how music made him feel better.
Tarbet and Bergman decided to overcome their obstacles, despite having someone diminish their goals and dreams, and persevere. They continued to raise money by selling lemonade, and Bergman now has a dog named Coconut.
“This is the message our students need to hear,” said Brion Bell, principal of Blue Ridge Middle School, “Perseverance, passion and persistence.”
Scott Kinney told the story how he never knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. When he moved to Purcellville with his family, his wife suggested that he should open a music store.
“It was the best decision. It is important to find out what is in your heart and follow your dreams,” Scott Kinney said.
With that, he introduced his brother, Jeff. It turns out Jeff Kinney had to overcome many obstacles to become an international bestselling author with three hit blockbuster movies.
He had a lifelong passion for drawing cartoons, and after several submissions to have his comic strips published after college, he received many rejection letters.
Kinney decided to take a different approach and began a journal with ideas for a book. It took him eight years to process all of his ideas, find a publisher and release his first book.
“People kept telling him it wasn’t good, and they were wrong,” Scott Kinney said as he introduced his brother.
Jeff Kinney now lives in Plainville, Mass. with his wife and two children, ages 9 and 12.
He has been churning out a book every year ever since the first one in 2007, and has found a formula to what he needs for every book: 350 new ideas or jokes.
As the process rolls along in his mind, he keeps track of each idea with wooden numbers above his office door. Finally, he writes his book. By summer, the editing has begun, and he begins drawing the illustrations to go along with it.
Each November, a new book is released.
He hopes to continue writing the series on this schedule for at least 11 more books. “In my mind, cartoon characters don’t change. It is part of the magic of cartoon characters, the suspension of disbelief,” Kinney said.
As for a fourth movie, he hopes there will be another one, but it is probably at least a couple of years away.
“I encourage you to let your dreams or talents grow,” Jeff Kinney said. “I was persistent. If you have a dream let it grow, and maybe one day you will be able to see it fly.”