DIARY OF AN INTREPID AUTHOR Jeff Kinney is the rare writer who speaks of his work in the collective voice — for instance, “We realized in the spring that having a book out in the height of a pandemic might not be the best thing so we decided to delay it.” But last month the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” creator was on his own when he embarked on a nine-day tour to promote his new novel, “Rowley Jefferson’s Awesome Friendly Adventure,” now at No. 1 on the children’s middle grade hardcover list. Equipped with a Wimpy Kid mask and an extra-long grabber for passing copies to customers, he drove an orange cargo van (“a futuristic ice-cream truck”) from Pennsylvania to Vermont, braving storms and downed trees along the way.
Kinney says the road trip reminded him of his early days as an author, before he started traveling in souped-up tour vans, accompanied by a team of helpers: “There was something elemental about getting behind the wheel and driving myself. I was taken aback by how enthusiastic the participants were. Cars full of parents and kids would pull up, ecstatic to have something to do, something that wasn’t canceled.”
Of course, it wasn’t all scenic views and adoring crowds. Kinney’s exhaust pipe hit the ground during a flash flood in Philadelphia, so he consulted YouTube, got on his back in a hotel parking lot, slid underneath the van and fixed it. “I’ll go on record,” he laughs. “I’m the least handy guy. I have a pianist’s hands.”
In addition to visiting bookstores, Kinney made house calls to bereaved families and children of frontline workers. He says, “That was really the most rewarding part. It was fun to pull up in a neighborhood in this really brightly decorated van, and sometimes neighborhood kids would run alongside it. Sometimes kids didn’t know this was happening — their parents had kept it as a surprise — so I’d tell them, ‘This is what happens if you read a book. The author will come to your house.’”
Luckily for his devoted fans, Kinney is hard at work on his next book, which comes out this fall. In the meantime, he has advice for kids on the threshold of a new school year: “You have to go into this season with a sense of humor because we’re stuck in this situation that has an ending; it’s just unclear when that ending will be. 2021’s going to be a lot better than 2020, that’s for sure. Enjoy your time with your family. Enjoy this weird situation if you can. Once the world opens up again, it’s going to be an awful lot of fun.”