Me and My Brudda: Jeff Kinney & Patrick Kinney Discuss the Who Was? History Bee
My daughter has just gotten old enough for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. She discovered them at school then started reading them independently. Poor kid. Think about it. She has to deal with a mom that gets embarrassingly excited whenever she starts reading a new series. The kid was mildly surprised when I pointed out that we already owned the first six or so in the series and that they were on a shelf in her room just waiting for her (there are three gigantic bookshelves in her room so it is understandable that she’d miss seeing them there before now). Time will only tell if she drops the series because I’m being so uncool about the whole thing, but how could I help it? I’m a big time Jeff Kinney fan over here. That’s why I got a teeny bit puzzled when I heard that he was getting involved with something called “Who Was? History Bee” along with some fella named *checks press release* a “Patrick Kinney”. Coincidence or brother?
Brother. Definitely brother.
So what precisely is going on here? Some answers come in the form of a handy dandy press release. It says:
The Who Was? History Bee is a free trivia contest being held during the 2019-2020 school year open to public, private, and homeschool students across the country. Registration is now open, and schools can go to www.WhoWasHistoryBee.com to sign up their classes by December 10, 2019. In May 2020, ten finalists will be flown to New York City, where they will compete for chance to win a $10,000 college scholarship, and for their school to win a library of 200+ Who Was? books and fun signage celebrating their big Bee win!
The Who Was? History Bee will be hosted by brothers Jeff Kinney (author of the bestselling Diary of a Wimpy Kidmseries) and Patrick Kinney (author of Who is Jeff Kinney? and the adventure novel Lunar Colony). The Kinneys’ dedication to children’s literacy, and their passion for igniting curiosity in young minds, have them both looking forward to hosting the live finale of The Who Was? History Bee in May 2020.
Darndest thing. Doesn’t answer all my questions, though. Might as well directly interview the folks involved to get the skinny. So here they are, folks. Kinney & Kinney:
Betsy: So from what I can tell, you have on your hands here is a history based trivia competition. But when I think of the name “Jeff Kinney” history is not the immediate brand that comes to mind. Where did this come from?
Patrick: Well, my career has been filled with many varied, unique experiences, including acting as the host of trivia nights at Jeff’s bookstore, An Unlikely Story, since 2017.
Jeff: And of course, since Patrick has written a Who Is? book himself about me (Who Is Jeff Kinney?) it was natural that we host—we’re already part of the Who Was? family!
Patrick: Exactly! So when Jane O’Connor, my Who Is Jeff Kinney? editor, reached out to raise the possibility of participating in the trivia bee, I was all over it. It’s a perfect marriage of two of my favorite recent work experiences and also allows me to engage with kids, which, as a middle school teacher, is how I spent the first dozen or so years of my career.
Betsy: Ah. This I understand. My husband’s a big trivia nut. But were you guys trivia fans when you were kids? Did you compete? Was yours a house where Trivial Pursuit was a do or die proposition?
Patrick: Absolutely. Jeopardy was always on while we were doing the dishes and Trivial Pursuit has always been my favorite game. As the youngest in the family, though, I wasn’t above giving myself a leg up by studying the cards before we’d play.
Betsy: Oo! A sneaky pete. Now from what I can tell, individual kids don’t sign up for the bee, schools do. And the schools have just a couple months left to participate. I get that with 10 child finalists, that’s a real allure. What’s the allure for the schools to host this?
Jeff: The schools get the chance to bring their student body together to test kids’ knowledge in a fun and completely unique way and the more successful their students are in the competition, the more exciting it is for the school. Imagine seeing the name of your child’s elementary school on the front page of a major newspaper!
Patrick: Also, the top three kids will win a library of Who Was? books for their school’s library!
Betsy: My husband is currently reading my 8-year-old Larry Gonick’s CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, and it got me to thinking. Will this trivia contest be about American history specifically or world history?
Patrick: The competition focuses on figures from world history, and the questions are drawn from the Who Was? books that students in grades 3-5 are reading across the country.
Jeff: So you may get a question about Che Guevara or another about George Washington – you never know!
Betsy: I mean, you guys have kids, right? Do they read the Who Was books at all? And how do they do in your bookstore, Jeff?
Jeff: I do! And yes, my two boys have read the Who Was books… and have stocked them on the shelves at my bookstore. We have a rotating display, and they do really well, especially during the school year!”
Patrick: I don’t have kids, but I just got a puppy who loves it when I read the Who Is? books to her!”
Betsy: Aww! Okay, last but not least, what are you hoping to get out of this competition? Why should kids want to participate?
Patrick: Oh, my gosh! There are so many reasons I’m looking forward to this event! For one, Jeff and I always have fun when we collaborate, so that’s a big one for me. Also, I can’t wait to meet the finalists, who will no doubt be an impressive group of kids. This competition represents such a great opportunity for all of the entrants. By reading the books from the Who Is? series, they’re going to become better prepared to take part, but more importantly, they’re going to develop a greater understanding of our world and many of the major figures who have contributed to our history. Many will even find inspiration from some of those figures and discover their own passion. I find that really exciting.”
Jeff: We are both excited to be a part of this opportunity for kids nationwide to discover some of history’s most amazing figures and events—the chance to interact with the kids in this setting is going to be a lot of fun! I think kids are going to want to participate because they get to show off their history knowledge in front of a national audience, as well as getting the chance to win money they can put towards their education!”
All right, dudes. You’re cool. Thanks to Patrick and Jeff for chatting with me, and to Elena Stokes for setting the whole thing up. For those of you interested, here’s a link for teachers/ librarians/ administrators to sign up.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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