The first book I remember loving was Swimmy by Leo Lionni. It was about a school of fish that teamed up to chase away a bigger fish, told in a lush, elegant artistic style. I like the cartoon expressiveness of it, mixed with sophisticated artwork. Of course, I didn't have those words as a kid; I just knew I liked it.
In general, books were hugely important to me and our house was filled with them, thanks to my mum, who was an early childhood educator. I loved comics as well, thanks to my father. Now I love to collect old Carl Barks comics. He created Scrooge McDuck, and wrote fantastic, globe-trotting adventures.
There's a scene in one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid stories where Greg Heffley's mother decides to try to tempt him and his friends away from their screens by starting a summer holiday "reading programme". She gives them classics like Little Women, which maybe aren't the best for preteen boys. That wasn't directly related to a real-life experience; I got the idea when an educator mentioned that most teachers of young boys are women and there's some bias in the reading assignments. I thought it would be a fun idea to exploit for comedy.
I think the best way to encourage kids to read is to feed their interests. My younger son was only interested in sports, so we gave him every sports-themed book we could find. Now he's branching out into other things. I think that putting a book into the hands of a kid is one of the best things you can do as a parent or educator. When a kid makes a connection to a book, it can turn them on to reading for the rest of their lives.
As a young kid I liked coming-of-age books by American author Judy Blume, who wrote realistic and mostly-humorous fiction. A fan once gave me a book called The Real Diary of a Real Boy, by Henry Shute and published in 1902. With Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I've used up just about everything from my own childhood so now I'm looking to other people's childhoods for inspiration.
Jeff Kinney's newest book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Getaway (Puffin, $18) is out now.