Viewed & Reviewed

Junie B. Jones Can't Spell.

At the tail end of July, The New York Times “Style” section featured a long piece on the Junie B Jones series of books for young readers. It seems that like everything else about parenting these days Junie B. is controversial, so much so that parents get really exercised about her – they’re either ecstatic or vitriolic about books written in the voice of a five year old. They either love them for amusing their kids or detest them as if the books are ruining them for life. For those who haven’t met her, Junie B Jones is a kindergartener and then a first grader who says what she thinks, often inappropriately; she’s loud, mischievous and sometimes naughty; she gets in trouble, sometimes with her teachers, sometimes with her mother. Worst of all, Junie B. Jones uses … BAD GRAMMAR.

Junie B. says “funner” and “runned” just as real kids do as they try to follow what seem to be the rules of English with its many irrational exceptions. Like other kids, Junie B. has also been known to call someone “stupid.” She is often, to put it bluntly, obnoxious. But Junie B. Jones gets scared when a five or six year old would be frightened. She worries about having bathroom accidents. She’s afraid other kids won’t like her. She acts out. But she also loves books and fish and electric pencil sharpeners. She makes up stories.


Barbara Parks’s Junie B. Jones books are designed for kindergarten through second graders to read to themselves. Because they’re slightly older than Junie B., they can laugh at her escapades and scoff when her behavior is outrageous. As Bay Area children’s book expert Joanne Roberge notes, “the very nature of successful kid lit is that it’s subversive - that is, kid pleasing. These books are intended as a reading phase, a stepping stone for emergent readers who have limited choices when it comes to books they can manage on their own, let alone be genuinely entertained by.”


Have I mentioned that Junie B. Jones’s favorite place at school is the library? That she keeps a journal? Literacy experts have long known that the surest way to get young children to begin to appreciate the power of writing is to help them to write down their own stories, to write about their lives. Even to keep journals. Do the parents who fear that Junie B and characters like her will corrupt their kids read only Jane Austen? Have they never read Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye? Chick lit? Perhaps the parents who fear that Junie B and other rambunctious little girl characters like her will corrupt their kids should just lighten up. Books that allow and encourage kids to read on their own, to discover the delicious intimacy of living for a while in a book, seems to me a very good thing.




As with so much with our kids it comes down to parents paying attention and talking to our kids about what's going on, in this case what they're reading, and reading with them. I've been reading these to my daughter for a couple years. She's now 7 and can read a lot by herself. Before she could, I edited out the bad grammar when I read aloud. Once she could read, I explained what words were wrong and why. She and her friend now think it's hysterical to point out what they call "Junie B" words when they read the books, like "runned." That, I think, is fantastic -- 6-7 year olds discussing why verb tense and grammar is wrong. That said, yes, I would prefer the books didn't include bad verb tenses and grammar, for sure. But that's not a reason to pass on otherwise entertaining books -- just treat it as a learning opportunity. As for her not being a role model, so be it, she's a protaganist. And a KID. If anybody reading has a perfect, always well-behaved kid I'd be stunned. Again, you can use her misbehavior as a teachable moment--not to emulate the bad, but to recognize the charming (like when she grows herself into giving something to the lost and found she really wants, or when she insists on dressing as the janitor for a dress-up day b/c she thinks it's cool to carry lots of keys). Let's not get too serious about this. Hopefully all our kids will read lots of different authors, and this is only one series, for a short window of their interest.


I know what you mean about the ideal of having the child reading with an adult... our daughter definitely does this, but she also likes to read at night, in her bed, for a while before she goes to sleep (and I am absolutely THRILLED about this development!). Obviously I need to be extra careful about what she's reading during that time! She feels very grown up doing this, and I love that it's reinforcing how fun and special it is to get to read.


I agree totally that there are other, better books for early readers than Junie B. But I think that even five year old early readers "get" that Junie B is naughty and "over the top," and that "runned" is incorrect. Most five year olds I know don't say "runned" and if they do, they're corrected. Most important of all, I think early readers should be reading with a parent by their sides, talking about what's going on in the books. That's part of what will make those early readers want to read as they grow older.


Here is the problem with Junie B. Jones: it's written for early readers. This means that many kids will be reading Junie B. Jones alone, without the benefit of mom's explanations. How is an early reader supposed to know, when she reads "I runned down the street", that it's WRONG? Your child will see these words in print and be completely confused. Those who say it's just vernacular, like Huckleberry Finn, are forgetting that Huck Finn is for older, more established readers who do know what the words are supposed to look like. But for a FIVE year old who's just getting started reading? It's confusing. No wonder kids these days are so illiterate - they are given examples like Junie B. Jones!

These books are trash -- like bad romance novels or junk food. Junie B. Jones puts others down, doesn't follow the rules, and is an absolutely terrible example. These books are a complete waste of time. I have explained to my five year old that we won't be reading this series because there are so many other better books to read that are more interesting and have characters worth reading about (for example: Magic Treehouse Series, Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte's Web, Little House on the Prairie...).

Good grammar teaching and modeling starts now, folks! Do your kid a favor and realize she's capable of understanding and enjoying something much more worthwhile.


I completely agree - Junie B. is like Ramona from our generation! Yes, her grammar is a little off, and yes, she is opinionated, loud and strong willed. However, my daughter and I love to read about Junie B. and even my opinionated, loud and strong willed child thinks some things that Junie B. does are a little over-the-top. However, we thoroughly enjoy reading her books and I love to give them as birthday presents for other young readers.


My daughters and I love these books!


This controversy is nuts. Junie B. is fantastic.


Junie B. is like the Ramona the Pest of our kids generation.  She is spunky, flawed and fabulous.  Her teacher makes her write in a journal.  She is in first grade of course she doesn't spell everything correctly.  Of course her grammar isn't always right. That is what is precious about it.  Those that think the kids are being misled about proper English as a result should just read with their kids and point out the errors and note how funny and very real they are.