Jeff Kinney’s latest book tour stop took him into Eldersburg on Wednesday evening, where the bestselling children’s author and cartoonist hosted a virtual pool party for hundreds of his fans.
The Maryland-born Kinney is best known for the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, and the 15th book in that series became available to the public Oct. 27. Kinney is in the midst of a promotional schedule for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End,” and said he came up with the idea for a virtual pool party during the tour of his last book in the series that was published in November 2019.
Kinney didn’t know then his pool party would be taking place amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the The Deep End Pool Party Tour is going on as planned thanks to a dedicated staff and help from local businesses and organizations.
“Kids needed something to do that wasn’t canceled,” Kinney said as he sat down to sign copies of “The Deep End” before the start of his drive-thru pool party event. “It felt really good to be able to do that [last year], so now we’ve tried to amplify the experience and make it into something that’s still really safe.”
The event took place at Century High School, in conjunction with Carroll County Public Library and A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville. Lisa Picker, CCPL director of communications, said tickets for the event sold out in less than one day ― 250 cars were allowed to participate in waves, so as to maintain social distancing guidelines.
Each car made its way through the parking lot pool party and drove past a tiki hut, pool toys, and a car wash before winding up in the “pool” where Kinney waited to give them an autographed copy of his new book ― by using a 6-foot-long pool skimmer to assist in deliveries.
Water balloons were handed out along the way, and a PVC-designed catapult sat near the end of the route for Kinney’s crew to launch a few toward unsuspecting automobiles.
A sound system pumped pool party sounds throughout the attraction, complete with music and splashing water, while volunteers donned beach-themed attire (from tropical prints to lifeguard gear) in helping direct traffic.
Families were encouraged to “Wimpify” their cars, and the vehicle chosen at the end of the event as the best decorated received a box set of Kinney’s books in the series.
“They get to do it as a family, in the comfort of their car,” Picker said. “It’s just wonderful in a week where so many of the normal activities that families used to be participating in may be off limits. They may look completely different this year. ... It’s a one-of-a-kind experience for them.”
Cars lined up in the parking lot about 15 minutes before the official 4:30 p.m. start time, and many of them came ready to enjoy the party. A few minivans and SUVs bore Kinney’s “Wimpy Kid” cartoon drawings on their sides, and passengers were decked in swimsuits and pool gear.
Kim Putnam and her family weren’t going to miss Wednesday’s event, even if it meant leaving their Frederick residence for a road trip. Kim and husband Dave were first in line, while sons Ethan, 14, and Ryan, 10, sat in the backseat waiting for their turn to drive through.
Putnam said she brought the family to a similar event when the library partnered with children’s author Dav Pilkey during a popular “Captain Underpants” book promotion.
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Kinney gave out a signed copy of his book and thanked the Putnams for coming before posing for a picture next to their car.
“I think I got an email [notification] about this,” Putnam said. “We didn’t wait because I knew it would sell out. He’s awesome. I’m so glad that he’s doing it. It’s very cool.”
Picker said those who couldn’t attend the event or didn’t find out about it in time could still purchase signed copies of “The Deep End.”
Kinney is in the middle of a 20-city tour to promote “The Deep End,” which follows the series’ main character Greg Heffley. In the latest adventure, Heffley and his family “hit the road for a cross-country camping trip,” but “find themselves stranded at an RV park that isn’t exactly a summertime paradise.”
The first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book was published in 2007, and the series has sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. The first of four “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films came out in 2010. The movie franchise has grossed more than $265 million at the box office, according to an Oct. 8 Forbes article.
Debbie Scheller, owner of A Likely Story Bookstore, took a moment to soak in the setup before cars began weaving their way through the socially distant pool party to meet the author.
“It’s so awesome, isn’t it?” Scheller said. “This is fun. It shows what he can do during a pandemic, you know? ... To have a thousand people willing to come out and socially distance in an event like that. It helps us too, because it has been tough during this time.”