Jeff Kinney – from cartoonist to author and bookstore owner. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Jeff Kinney, author of global smash hit Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is about to open a bookstore in his small hometown, 60km from Boston.

Plainville is home to just 8000 people, but the cartoonist who has created a billion-dollar empire in just a decade recently told The Boston Globe that he’s angry about the loss of so many bookstores in the digital age.

“Bookstores have always been such a big part of my life and my wife’s life, and we wanted to do something about it. We wanted to provide our kids and our community with a place where they could be exposed to new ideas, cultural events, and other people who love to read,” Kinney said.

There’s some irony in the move, since Greg Heffley, the conniving protagonist of the series, began life 10 years ago as an online venture – an online diary for educational publisher Pearson, where Kinney was a games developer.

Within 18 months 20 million people had logged on to read about Greg’s adventures and after constant requests for a printed version, the first of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series appeared in 2007, making the The New York Times best-seller list in a fortnight and a global phenomenon was born, translated into 41 different languages. The ninth book in a series that’s sold more than 115 million copies was released last November, plus there were three films.

He’s had something of a change of heart on digital too, he tells the Globe:

Years ago, when e-readers came out, I thought that this was a great thing, because I see my kids with these really heavy backpacks. I think there is a place for that with textbooks. A novel is a different thing. I think there’s a correct medium for everything. I read something recently that said kids’ retention is higher when they read a physical book. That seems very plausible to me.

E-readers, he says, are “a good supplement to reading physical books”.

Kinney explained that his bookstore is “not a vanity project” and won’t be “Wimpy world”. It has to survive on its own as a business without his celebrity presence, although he’s hoping to offer cartooning classes and maybe screenwriting too.

For him it’s all about the community culture in Plainville, population 8000, where he lives with his wife and two sons, aged 12 and 9. His bookstore is opening where the general store used to be. Kinney argues that with everyone shopping at Target and Costo, his store can “be the reason that people come together and get to know each other”.

Despite having enough money to probably never need to work again, Kinney says he’d like to work there stocking the shelves and talking about books to customers, as well as helping out in the cafe.

“I never got to do that kind of a thing, and I think it would be fun,” he told The Boston Globe.

He hopes his kids will get summer jobs there too, but judging by a recent tweet, customers might be surprised by whose books the boys recommend.

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