|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.