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Archive for the ‘Jeff Kinney’ Category


SOUNDTRACK
: BILLIE EILISH-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #71 (August 26, 2020).

There’s so much to say about this Billie Eilish concert.

The biggest artist in the world has just done a Tiny Desk Concert!

Somehow it looks like she’s in the Tiny Desk studio!

Why does she only play two songs?

My daughter and I were supposed to see her back in March and she cancelled her tour about three nights before our show was supposed to happen.  What a bummer!  Especially because who knew if people would even want to see her again in a year (I’m pretty sure they will).  And would her stage show and song style change over that year?

The answer to that seems to be a dramatic yes.  Especially if these two songs are anything to go by.

For these two songs Billie embraces her torch song inner child.  She has a really lovely voice–delicate and emotional.

These songs are personal and lovely–there’s no “Duhs,” there’s no snark.  Compared to what I expected, they were kind of dull, actually.  Very pretty, but kind of dull.

These are the two new singles.  For “my future” Billie plays keyboards and her “real brother” Finneas plays guitar and sings some backing vocals.

On “everything i wanted” they switch places, with Finneas playing the pretty piano melody and providing a lot of nice backing vocals.

These two songs seem like they would go very nicely in the middle of a set of bangers for a few moments of cool down.  I hope when her show is rescheduled that she still brings all the excitement I;d heard her shows typically have.

As for the background…at first I thought it was just a cute idea.  But after six months, it was really comforting to have musicians look like they were playing the actual Tiny Desk.

[READ: August 28, 2020] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball

This is the book that started my resurgence into reading Wimpy Kid books. I bought this one for my daughter.  This story had me laughing out loud once again.

This book has a lot to do with the Heffley’s house.  I don’t know if middle school kids can appreciate jokes about household maintenance, but as an adult I sure can.

The book opens with Greg’s mom wanting to do some cleaning up.  That means going through the closet in Greg’s room.  He tells us that he basically just throws things into it, so it’s like an archaeological dig.

He starts sifting through things and finds old toys and things to feel sentimental about which is pretty funny.  But with all this junk, he decided that rather than throw it out, he should make some money off of it and have a garage sale.  Cue: Family Frolic magazine and their “great” ideas for a garage sale.  [I love when he makes fun of this magazine].

Greg has labelled his tables in creative ways: “Great gifts for your grandkids”(stuff from his grandparents that he doesn’t want).  “Pre-written birthday cards” (with his name white-outed). Mystery socks (which is just a pile of junk for 50 cents) and Rare Items (like an invisibility lotion and a freckle remover (an eraser or soap I guess)). (more…)

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download (98)SOUNDTRACK
: TAME IMPALA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #69 (August 24, 2020).

download (97)With so many artists that I’ve never heard of doing really long Home Tiny Desk Concerts, why on earth did Tame Impala, one of the biggest bands around, only play for 16 minutes?

The studio version of Tame Impala is pretty simple on paper: All songs are written, produced and performed by Kevin Parker. For the live version, Parker is still front and center but surrounded by a host of musicians who interpret his recorded work almost to a tee.

For his Tiny Desk (Home) Concert or his “Tame Impala Soundsystem” Parker brought Jay Watson and Dom Simper together to

do this kind of electronic jam with heaps of equipment around us and we’ll recreate the songs with samplers and sequencers. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while and thought Tiny Desk would be the opportunity to do it.

So the three of them are in a room with banks of keyboards and all kinds of buttons to push and knobs to twist.  There’s even a guitar (most notably on “Is It True”).

They play two songs from this year’s The Slow Rush.  They open with “Breathe Deeper.”  The most interesting part of the song comes at the end when Parker starts messing around with the mixer in front of him and he starts generating drum beats and manipulating the sound of the entire song.

“Is It True” is similarly dancey and Parker’s soaring falsetto rides over the top of the song nicely.

They end the set with “Patience” a fantastic 2019 single that for some reason, didn’t make it to The Slow Rush.  This is my favorite song of the three.  The melody is great and with the pace slowed a bit it makes the song a bit more memorable.

When I saw then live, their show felt massive.  This show sounds massive too, yet it’s all confined to a tiny room.

[READ: August 20, 2020] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway

I was looking forward to reading this book after really enjoying Book 12.  But I felt like this one wasn’t quote as laugh out loud funny as some of the others.  I find Greg’s family dynamic to be the funniest part of these books and his family doesn’t feature all that much in this one.

This book is all about snow.  And snow means snow days from school, sledding and snowball fights.

The book begins with some environmental concern about global warming (it is unseasonably hot that winter).  Despite the genuine concern for global warming, Greg’s take is always a little warped–he’s concerned that if the ice caps melt there could be a giant monster hiding in there.  (more…)

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download (92)SOUNDTRACK: VÍKINGUR ÓLAFSSON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #63 (August 12, 2020).

download (91)Víkingur Ólafsson has a fantastic name.  But even better is his way of talking about the music he plays.  He adds so much detail and information about these songs that they really come to life.  I don’t often buy classical music anymore, but I absolutely want to get his new record of Rameau and Debussy pieces).

Ólafsson  has moved from strength to strength, releasing three terrific albums in a row (Philip Glass, J.S. Bach, Debussy-Rameau). And now that he has a young son, he wants to spend as much time with the family as possible these days.

So he tells us that he is leaving Berlin after living there for eight years, to return to Iceland with his wife and son.

He opens with a beautiful slow and stately piece from J.S. Bach (arr. Stradal): “Andante” (from Organ Sonata No. 4).  The piece runs about five minutes and after four slow lines, he throws in some amazing speed near the end.  he says that Bach is a good idea whether you are happy or sad–whatever it is, Bach makes things better.

Then Ólafsson offers a crash course in the fascinating music of Jean-Philippe Rameau and Claude Debussy, two French composers who lived nearly 200 years apart. Ólafsson connects the dots between the two seemingly strange bedfellows, illustrating his points with demonstrations on his Steinway.

Introducing Jean-Philippe Rameau, he says the music will go in a very different direction (than Bach).  Rameau was two years older than Bach and was dubbed the Newton of harmony.  He defined harmony and opened musical doors.

For Rameau: “Le rappel des oiseaux” (“The Recall of the Birds”) he says that he is playing two birds: one in his right hand and one in his left.  They are calling to each other–one imitating the other with perfect recall.  Then they take flight and we see the landscape under their wings.  When he plays it, it absolutely comes to life.

He says that was first piece of Rameau that he had ever heard.  The version he heard was by a Russian pianist who played it “more sad, more Russian.”  He plays it like that original version and you can hear the remarkable difference and how both versions work so well–although I like Ólafsson’s better.

Introducing Claude Debussy, he says it’a unusual pairing since they lived 200 years apart.  But Debussy’s idol was Rameau.  They were both musical outsiders, reinventing music, bringing life to a tired scene.

He plays a simple Debussy melody–harmony in space, a timeless beauty.  But Debussy did not like being considered an Impressionistic.  He was interested in the baroque, and there is a baroque structure to his music.

For Debussy’s: “The Snow is Dancing” (from Children’s Corner), he describes the driving rhythm that never stops as he explores harmonic inventions.  This song wa written for his four-year-old daughter as he was exploring the snow with her. You can absolutely hear the textures of the snow in the song.

Ólafsson has a penchant for making transcriptions, taking pieces written for other instruments and making them his own. He closes with “The Arts and the Hours,” his mesmerizing arrangement of a scene from Rameau’s final opera, which he plays as a farewell to his Berlin apartment.

Ólafsson says that he wrote his last masterpiece (an opera) a year before he died and he never heard it performed.  Indeed, it didn’t get a world premiere until 200 years after he died in 1960.  This is a transcription he made because he was jealous of all the conductors and orchestra players who got to play this music.   Rameau (arr. Ólafsson): “The Arts and the Hours” (from Les Boréades) is more loveliness from a composer who I feel may be quite under appreciated.

[READ: 2017 and August 15, 2020] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway

I read this book when it came out in 2017 but never posted about it.  Then I recently realized that Kinney had written two more Wimpy Kid books that I hadn’t read (and two books written by Rowley, that I don’t know at all).  So it was time to get Wimpy again.

This book is a Christmas book and yet it’s not a typical Christmas story–no annoying relatives, no bad gifts, not even snow.  For The Heffleys have decided to go on holiday for Christmas.    Their Christmas planning was going very badly (a funny picture of the tree on its side with Manny playing with tinsel), so when they saw an ad for Isla de Corales, where Greg’s parents went on their honeymoon, they decided to get out of town for Christmas and celebrate in the warmth of the holidays.

Now, unlike shows where the place is far worse than the advertisement shows, Isla de Corales proves to be a wonderful paradise.  However, the place has now been divided into the mild side for families and the wild side for couples.  Obviously, the wild side is better but the Heffleys have no way to get there.

But before they arrive, they have to get there.  Their entire trip to the airport is one terrible moment after another–bad traffic, lost luggage, late shuttle.  Not to mention terrible lines and a hilarious pile of confusion at the security line–I love that it’s not Greg’s fault that things went so badly but the Heffleys had to pay for it anyway.  And of course Manny is a nightmare. (more…)

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 doubledownSOUNDTRACK: JAKE SCHEPPS’ EXPEDITION QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #187 (January 19, 2012).

jakeJake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet is a somewhat unusual string quartet in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo.  And so the songs have a classical feel–melodies repeated in a fugue style, but with the prominence of the banjo, it feels more like a folk song.  The violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound.  And that’s interesting enough, but it’s the story of the music that they are playing which makes it even more fascinating:

About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.

This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.

For this concert, with fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison, they played a Bartók hoe-down of sorts.

They play three pieces:

“Romanian Folk Dances: ‘Stick Game'”  Bartók (arr. Flinner).  This is a quieter piece with moments of bounce.  Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group because everyone shares the spotlight.  The guitar takes a lengthy solo–its got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar).  The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is neat.  When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is playing.

“For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes): ‘Stars, Stars Brightly Shine'” Bartók (arr. Schepps).  This is a slower tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing.  Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful.

“Mikrokosmos No. 78 / ‘Cousin Sally Brown'” Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps).  Before this track, when someone tells Schepps that No 78 is his favorite of the Mikrokosmos, he says that he prefers 79.  The bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial.  The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally” a rollicking traditional dance number.  The four seems to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and when they all rejoin for the end—it’s pretty great.

[READ: December 27, 2016] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

I keep expecting the quality of the jokes in the Wimpy Kid books to decline.  But rather, this book was not only hilarious, but it worked really well as a book, too.

What I mean is that, I know that the Wimpy Kid series is online and that Kinney does a new story every day (or at least he did , I don’t know if he still does).  These books had always been taken from the online site (and I assume they still are).  But somehow, this book has jokes that circle back to jokes earlier in the book.  There’s at least a half a dozen callbacks which makes this book more than just a collection of diary entries…it’s a perfectly contained unit with a satisfying ending.

(more…)

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 schoololsSOUNDTRACK: KHAIRA ARBY-Tiny Desk Concert #94 (November 29, 2010).

khairaA year ago I would have said I know nothing about music from Mali, but the shows at NPR have given me a greater appreciation of it.  And, while I wouldn’t say I’d have been able to pick this out as music from Mali, I definitely recognized the style of the what I’m going to call fiddly guitar that seems to be prominent in Mali music.

You can really hear how good guitarist Drahmane Toure is with the way he keeps up the constant soloing and fiddly bits.  It brings a cool distinctive sound to the otherwise steady rhythm from the bass and percussion (which looks like a beautifully carved salad bowl covered in duct tape).

The rest of the band includes an acoustic guitar, a bass backing singers and some other instrument that i can’t figure out.

Of course, this show is meant to celebrate singer Khaira Arby, the queen of desert rock.  And she is fine.  I don’t really have much to say about her.  She sings perfectly for this music, and sounds almost more like a prayerful singer than a professional one.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

Clark said that this book was the best Wimpy Kid yet (a claim he has made before, so this must be really great).  My story about this book is that I knew the cover was black and I know basically what the back cover looks like, so when we saw Age of Ultron this summer, imagine my surprise to see that the boy was reading this book (which didn’t come out until last week).  Movies are magic.

Anyhow, this book begins in September with some hilarious snark about “the good old days.”  I love Greg’s reaction, “I think they’re just jealous because MY generation has all this fancy technology and stuff they didn’t have growing up.”  And now Greg’s mom’s big kick is to get everyone to unplug.  To unplug and reconnect with the community. (more…)

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longSOUNDTRACK: OLOF ARNALDS-Tiny Desk Concert #93 (November 22, 2010).

olof Olof Arnalds is from Iceland and she sings in Icelandic.  She sings a kind of experimental folk, although in this Tiny Desk it is just her and a partner, Davíð Þór Jónsson, playing acoustic guitars.

And playing acoustic guitars keeps these songs pretty grounded.    Arnalds is a classically trained violinist, but she sticks to guitar on two of the tracks.

“Innundir Skinni” is a beautiful melody and our first exposure to Arnald’s voice, which is certainly unconventional.  Her voice is quite high and really rather lovely, just more Icelandic than Western.  Although even though she sings in Icelandic, anyone can sing along to the “la la la” part.

On “Surrender” she plays a churango made from an armadillo shell.  It brings a beautiful delicateness to this song.  I love the staccato chorus

“Crazy Car” sung in English as a duet, in which their accents and non-English delivery (especially Davíð’s) is most notable. The end, when she sings a different vocal melody is lovely.

Her voice might be off-putting to some, but I always like to hear someone with a bit of character.

[READ: November 10, 2015] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

This has been my favorite Wimpy Kid book so far.   I tend to like the ones that focus on a single long event and the whole family more than lots of little episodes at school.  So this book, which follows the Heffley family on a summer road trip was perfect for me.

I also love the way Kinney taps into real things but modifies them just enough to make them somehow even funnier.  Like the way he creates the magazine Family Frolic (but uses the font of Family Fun magazine) and describes it perfectly–showing idealized family moments which no family can ever hope to recreate.   There’s also the hilarious way that trying to surprise kids with a trip can backfire (Manny is so excited to visit their aunt, that they have to delay their real trip to Disney World).

I also enjoyed the use of Flat Stanley (from the book by Jeff Brown) and the hilarious way he changed Captain Underpants to Underpants Bandits (by Mik Davies, rather than Dv Pilkey) which allowed him to make his own underwear jokes. (more…)

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stickdogSOUNDTRACK: BABYMETAL – メギツネ – Megitsune (2013).

baby My friend Lar introduced me to this colossal mash-up known as Babymetal just yesterday, and I am utterly hooked by this completely fabricated band.

The visuals absolutely make this song what it is, because without seeing it you probably can’t imagine what is actually happening.

This song is a super heavy thrash metal song.  Even when a hyperkinetic keyboard riff gets laid over the top of it, it still maintains that thrashy sound.  Then three junior high school aged girls start singing.  In Japanese.  The lead singer has a great voice that fits in very well especially around the 90 second mark when the song gets very catchy and swerves into a pop metal vein.  The other two sing in very high-pitched, only-in-Japan voices.  Some time around 2 minutes she starts screaming (heavily processed) adding a  whole new dimension of noise to the song.  And we all like the break around 3:12 which has a brief spoken word section (man I wish I knew what she was saying).

And so this winds up being a meeting of death metal and J-Pop.  And your mind will explode when you watch it.  The video shows the three girls doing their best kawaii–being adorable, in school girl outfits–while headbanging.  And the musicians behind them are all wearing masks and playing traditional Japanese-looking obi and drums while shredding like maniacs.

Everything about this is so artificial that I just love it.  Looking for any info about them, really all you read about is the three girls, there is no mention of the musicians who play amazingly fast and precise shredding guitars solos and can also switch gears into pop and (on some other songs) dance and rap.  I have no idea what this song is about, but I am totally hooked on it.  I imagine this will be a passing phase, but man, what a fun one to get hooked on.

[READ: March 3, 2014] Stick Dog

C. wanted me to grab him this book at the library and then proceeded to devour it in a few minutes. Then he suggested I should read it too.  So I did, and I devoured it pretty quickly too.  Obviously the precedent of the Wimpy Kid books is at play here–a short funny book that combines paragraphs of text and simple drawings, but this story doesn’t really have anything really in common with the Wimpy series.  Because this is all about a dog.

Stick Dog lives alone in a tunnel (but Watson assures us not to feel badly for him).  He has four friends: Poo-Poo (C. loved that name) who is a poodle; Stripes, a dalmatian; Karen, a dachshund and Mutt, a mutt.  The very simple plot of this story is that Stick Dog and his friends want to steal hamburgers from a family picnicking in the park.  That’s it.

The joy of the book is listening to Stick Dog (the smart ones) and his friends (mm, not so smart) try to figure out how to accomplish this task.  Watson prefaces the story by explaining that he could just write “woof woof” but it’s much easier for everyone if he just translates it into English for us.  The dogs are easily distracted by squirrels and garbage.  But when they put their minds to it, they come up with over-elaborate plans (and are offended when Stick Dog points out their lack of common sense).  And just as they are sure to go on a plan that works, Karen gets lost in the tall grass, and the others spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to best remember her. (more…)

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hardluckSOUNDTRACK: LUCKY DIAZ AND THE FAMILY JAM BAND-“Thingamajig” (2013).

luckyThis song made the XPN Kid’s Corner Top ten.   When the played it on the radio, I was surprised at how ..quiet it was.  Even now listening to it, it just seems like all of the sounds are at the same level, it all kind of blends together, which is a shame because the song is really kind of fun.

Now that I’ve listened a few times I like it more.  It actually has a kind of Death Cab for Cutie feel.  The bass is particularly nice, but of course the fun part is the lyrics (a thingamajig, a whatchamacallit, who what where why).

So a couple of listens and I’m won over by the song.  I wish it was a bit more dynamic in the production, but it’s a catchy little number.  And I’m curious to hear what the rest of the album sounds like.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck

Clark was so excited for this book!  This is the first one that he knew about before I did.  We decided to save it for a Christmas present, and man was he chomping at the bit.  He even borrowed it from a friend (because there were 100 people on the waiting list a the library).  And yet, even though he had already read it, when it arrived on Christmas, he was still really excited.  And has already read it four times.

And what was sweeter was that he really wanted me to read it.  He thought it was the best one yet.

I was surprised by this as the whole first section is about how lost Greg feels now that Rowley has a girlfriend, Abigail.  I can’t really imagine how he related to that as it’s not an issue for an 8-year-old (in fact the whole series is skewed a little old for an 8-year-old, but he still loves it).  Mostly Greg isn’t so much jealous that Rowley has a girlfriend so much as he is jealous that she is keeping Rowley from being Greg’s slave, I mean, friend.  Normally, Rowley walks in front of Greg to look out for the (newly added, I think) Mingo kids who threaten anyone who comes close to their wood (which is on their way to school) or for dog land mines–the scene where the dog figures out how the electric fence works is so funny.  And speaking of dogs, Clark absolutely cracked up about the joke with the little dog Sweetie who sniffs herself if you make a raspberry sound near her. (more…)

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vordakSOUNDTRACK: TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA-“I Got a Cheese Log” (2004).

fishesWe bought the Trout Fishing in AMerica Christmas CD (Merry Fishes to All) this year. It arrived on the day before Christmas, so we didn’t get to listen to it too much).  But I rather enjoyed the nonsense of this song–everybody else got exactly what they wanted for Christmas but “I got a cheese log.”  It’s catchy (with piano, which is a bit unexpected for them) and the punchline of the chorus has a great wanh wanh sound.

But getting only a cheese log is enough to make anyone turn evil.

[READ: December 31, 2012] Vordak the Incomprehensible

Technically, according to the cover,  the author of this book is Vordak the Incomprehensible, but I’m going by the copyright page.

C.’s school had a Scholastic book fair.  I grabbed this book (with its large $2.50 sticker on the cover) figuring I could get him a surprise gift.  Of course, the people who work the Scholastic Book Fair seem to have no idea that one might be trying to surreptitiously buy a book for the child one is with–imbeciles!  brain-dead nincompoops!! (See the book is working, I feel more evil already).  Anyhow, since C. saw it, I told him that he could “buy” it for me for Christmas.  Which he rather liked.  And so, I read it on the last day of 2012 (making sure he saw me read it).

This book is very funny and a lot of fun.  I feel like it may be a year or two too old for him to really appreciate (like Wimpy Kid)–he would certainly laugh at most of the jokes, but I think it would be really really funny with a bit more, dare I say it, life experiences.

So the book is written by Vordak the Incomprehensible, an evil mastermind who is retiring.  He is passing along every thing he knows to you, the reader, despite his utter lack of faith in your abilities. (more…)

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3rdSOUNDTRACK: PHINEAS AND FERB-“I Really Don’t Hate Christmas” (2009).

doofenI have grown to love Phineas and Ferb ever so much  in the past year.  Holy cow it makes me laugh so much  that I would totally watch  it even without the kids around.

This song, sung by the evil Dr Doofenshmirtz, explains how he has a backstory that makes him hate every holiday except Christmas–he just has a burning indifference to it.  The song is catchy and funny.

Of course since he is an evil scientist, he finds a reason to hate Christmas and launch his naughtyinator.  When carolers come to his door and repeat over and over that they want figgy pudding, he begins to get quite annoyed.  And we get this hilarious exchange:

CAROLERS: (singing) We won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some….

DR. DOOFENSHMIRTZ: What? Are you threatening me? How dare you! No one barges into my home and demands desserts! What sort of plan is that anyway? “Let’s go to a stranger’s house, sing songs to him, and refuse to leave unless he hands us a food dish no one’s prepared since the 16th century!”

Just in time for the holidays:

[READ: December 20, 2012] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel

Clark was more excited for this book than I was!  As soon as he saw it, he grabbed it and ran into his room to read it (for which I was both proud and a little annoyed as I wanted to read it).  I’m not sure how much he could have enjoyed it as it is all about going on a date, but he seemed to like it.

It’s not all about a date though.  It begins with Greg reminiscing about his time in the womb (a very odd thing for Clark to read, I’m sure).  rtHis mom listening to Mozart and just how much he could hear while in there.  Then he talks about his life as a wee one, which is very funny–he learned how to take the batteries out of the remote so his mom couldn’t put the educational shows back on (he’s also annoyed that Manny gets to watch whatever he wants now–no educational TV for him).

But Manny doesn’t come out on top all the time–there’s the boy who acts like a vampire at Sunday School and scares Manny to bits.  This may be why Manny only has imaginary friends (well, that and the fact that their mom reads Manny the children’s book she wrote about the boy who used to bite Greg–it  terrifies Manny).  Of course, the imaginary friends get in trouble for all the things Manny does (maybe Manny does come out on top all the time after all).

One of the funnier aspects of the Wimpy Kid series is the locations that they go to.  Like Corny’s, the family restaurant where the key is fun (not food), and the first time they went Greg almost sat on a PB&J sandwich that was never cleared away.  (And wait till you see what the family next to them are doing!). (more…)

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