There already are "American Idols" and "Real Housewives" in the pantheon of current pop culture phenomena, and now a "Wimpy Kid" can be added to the list of lionized icons.
He's Greg Heffley, the preteen protagonist in a series of wildly popular children's books who, improbably, has made being wimpy cool. His everyday adventures and challenges also have been adapted as fodder for two Hollywood films.
The latest, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules," had its premiere right here in Buffalo on Thursday at the Tapestry Charter School, 65 Great Arrow Ave. It was all to the utter delight of teacher Cindy Kelly's combined second- and third-grade students, who strolled the red carpet with the film's lead actors and the books' author, Jeff Kinney.
Despite the fact that lead character Greg has been described by various sources as a proud slacker, put-upon, whiny and self-absorbed, Kelly said her students love all five books in the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. The first book was published in 2007.
"What really appeals to them is that Jeff Kinney writes a little bit about his own life, and I think that the kids can relate to some of the characters that he's created. It is a series that has really gotten kids to pick up a book and read -- some reluctant readers, even," Kelly said.
So how did her students wind up rubbing shoulders with the books' author and the cast members who portray Kinney's characters on the big screen?
It was thanks to Kathy Jarvis, the mother of one of Kelly's students, Annie Jarvis. Kathy Jarvis entered a national contest launched by 20th Century Fox and Parade magazine for a chance to have her daughter's school host "the red-carpet Hollywood premiere" of the movie. Out of more than 20,000 entries nationwide and eight locally, Kathy Javis won.
Thursday, 9-year-old Annie and her classmates got to high-five the young movie stars as they shared the red carpet with the star, Zachary Gordon, and the actors who portray his character's bullying brother, Rodrick, and the protagonist's put-upon best friend, Rowley Jefferson, who are Devon Bostick and Robert Capron, respectively.
Even the actors enjoyed it. "I've never been to a premiere at a school before. It's awesome. I love it," said Bostick, 19, a native of Toronto, who acknowledged having passed through Buffalo a few times before.
"Yeah, it's strange to be back in the cold and seeing snow, but I love it," Bostick added.
Before the screening at Tapestry Charter School, Kinney explained the genesis of his now-famous characters, who grew out of his desire to create a fictional world populated by real children.
"I felt like there were a lot of kids in children's literature who were heroes or who are, basically, miniature adults, and they don't act like kids," Kinney said. "I was an average kid, and I felt pretty powerless in the world, and I thought it would be good to have a hero who was sort of an antihero."
He added, "There are small lessons that Greg learns in the books, but the big lessons come in the movies. I'm trying not to write down to kids. I'm not trying to moralize to them. I'm trying to entertain them, to give them a laugh and to, hopefully, teach them that reading can be a lot of fun in the process.
"So it's entertainment for entertainment's sake. Really."