You can tell by the way Big Nate is packaged that somebody - probably lots of somebodies - are hoping that Nate will slot directly into the "If you liked Diary of a Wimpy Kid" list. I won't keep you in suspense. It will.
You may be familiar with Nate Wright from the Big Nate comic strip that may or may not run in your local paper. Well, here, he gets his own book. Not a collection of comic strips, an honest-to-Pete chapter book about a day in the life of the sometimes unlucky but awfully confident Nate. Nate's first-person narrative is largely written in prose, but with dialogue and actions depicted in comic panels and illustrations, along with pages from Nate's own comics.
The format, in short, is exactly like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And there are other similarities as well. I think because both Wimpy Kid and Big Nate were daily (or semi-daily) comic strips for a long time before their authors tackled a chapter book, Lincoln Peirce and Jeff Kinney know their boys very well. They have put them into so many situations that they've internalized how each will respond (Quick! Peirce! Nate meets the bad vampires from Twilight! And... go!). There's a believability about these characters that comes from their authors knowing them inside and out.
Also, and this is both harder than it sounds and more important, Kinney and Peirce both draw their characters with a great deal of confidence and consistency. That comes from practice, too. And each panel is drawn, rather than one character blank drawn, and then pasted into many panels with different sets of eyes. That works for Tom Tomorrow, but not in a kids' book.
What's different, though, is Nate. Nate may be awful to his teachers, and maybe not so nice to his big sister and his dad (Nate's mom is never even mentioned, which validates his single-dad family as perfectly normal and Not Tragic), but he is not conniving or thoughtless like Greg Heffley can be. Nate can't even bring himself to forge a note from his father. He has good pals - they distribute noogies and whap each other with their notebooks and make fun of each other, but at the end of the day they do not inflict pain upon each other.
(I should say that I wrote a very ambivalent review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid when it first came out. I still deplore that kid's inconsiderate soul, but I agree with the author that no kid is looking at Greg Heffley as a role model. I should also say that Jeff Kinney was remarkably graceful about that review.)
And if you like boys, as I do, you will get a giggle out of his poetry celebrating Cheez Doodles and his list of nicknames for his homeroom teacher, Ms. Godfrey. "Pass the Gravy" is the funniest of these, in my opinion.
Haiku, by Nate Wright
You have Cheez Doodles
Fresh. Crunchy. Puffalicious.
Give me one right now.
He's got energy and aspirations, and the attention span of a gnat. He's observant and expressive but average in many ways. Nate knows that his time will come, and he knows that middle school is NOT THAT TIME.