Latest ‘Wimpy Kid’ book a great gift

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck" by Jeff Kinney (Amulet, 218 pages, $13.95)

The most eagerly awaited book of 2013 came out this month. Millions of middle schoolers, particularly boys, have been anticipating the latest edition in Jeff Kinney’s immensely popular series. These books detail the adventures of Greg Heffley.

Greg is a fictional middle schooler. His diary entries resonate with millions of kids in his peer group, particularly those reluctant readers. Jeff Kinney illustrates these books with hundreds of whimsical cartoons. The latest one is “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck.”

This will be the biggest book of the year. How big? Well, when a publisher orders an initial print run of 100,000 copies, that’s a big book. Only a few books will merit initial print runs of a million copies. The initial run for this title was 5.5 million copies.

That’s huge.

The central theme in “Hard Luck” is friendship. Readers of this series know that Greg’s best friend is a boy named Rowley. Greg tends to take Rowley for granted. As “Hard Luck” begins, Greg is feeling upset. Things have changed between the two friends. Greg explains: “It’s all because of a girl.”

Rowley has found a girlfriend named Abigail. Greg can’t understand it: “believe me, the last person I ever thought would get a girlfriend is Rowley.” Greg had always assumed that he would be the one who got girlfriends and that “Rowley would be the guy everybody felt sorry for.”

Greg is sad and sentimental because Rowley is now spending most of his time with Abigail. Greg feels left out. He pines for the company of his friend: “back in the good old days, it was just me and Rowley, and we hung out and did whatever we wanted. If we felt like blowing bubbles in our chocolate milk, then that’s exactly what we did.”

Abigail considers such behavior to be foolish. Greg has to sit there and stew as Rowley wishes Abigail a happy anniversary during lunch.

Rowley notes that they have been together now for a whole nine-and-a-half days.

Greg feels blue about all this. When he tries to complain to Rowley that Abigail is messing up their friendship, Rowley plugs his ears and says, “you’re just jealous.” Jeff Kinney does a marvelous job of conveying a middle school atmosphere and the numerous interactions of the students.

Greg gets some new sneakers. He tries go to school without getting them dirty. Greg’s best efforts conclude with hilarious results. He discovers a Magic 8 Ball toy under his brother’s bed. He shakes it up and asks it some questions. Pleased with the toy’s responses Greg takes it to school. It didn’t appear to help much for taking exams.

“Hard Luck” is the eighth book in this series. There’s a good reason why there are over 115 million copies of these books in print — kids love them. Adult readers will find plenty to chuckle about, too. This book will be on many gift lists this year. Speaking of books that would make great gifts, there is bumper crop out this year. I’ll make some suggestions in my next two columns.