I dislike the Wimpy Kid books. Mostly, I dislike the main character. And his family. And most of his friends. I admit I've never made it through an entire book. The urge to slap the little twerp, give his mom a good shaking, tell his older brother to grow up, and burn down the middle school grows too strong and I give up.
But they are, of course, very, very popular. So when I saw Big Nate recommended as a Wimpy Kid read-alike, I bought it for the library. Of course, I flipped it open to glance through it...and immediately found myself laughing. So I decided to take a chance and read the whole thing.
Nate as a character is infinitely preferable. Sure, he's the center of his world, selfish, and acts and speaks without thinking. But he's a much more typical middle schooler, or at least more likable, than Greg Heffley, who I would totally ban on sight if he ever set foot in my library. Nate makes dumb decisions, is oblivious to what the people around him think, and certainly doesn't empathize with his teachers or any adults. But he's kind of likable too. The reader can see Nate being a livable human being a few years down the road.
The other thing that makes this series funnier and more palatable (to me at least) is its episodic nature. We don't see Nate grow or change much, because we don't actually see much of him. The entire plot is a single school day, where Nate racks up endless detentions as he tries to make his fortune come true and "surpass all others". Originally a cartoon strip, the story maintains much of the structure with each catastrophe Nate gets into having a definite mini plot arc and ending gag.
The cartoon art is taken straight from the strip, stylistically, with brisk lines and recognizable characters. There's plenty of action and the illustrations and mini comics blend smoothly into the story.
Verdict: Recommended to Wimpy Kid fans, of course, but also a compromise for parents who don't like Greg Heffley's relentless jerkosity and kids who want a funny school story with illustrations.
ISBN: 978-0-6-100287-2; Published March 2010 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library