Recently, my youngest son was organizing his books, separating them into stacks to donate, stacks to keep for now and stacks to keep forever. The stack to keep forever was a small tower of Junie B. Jones books, the New York Times best-selling and controversial young reader series by author Barbara Park. Park died at age 66 last month, bringing a premature end to the beloved Junie B. Jones series. Our family was saddened at the loss of this talented writer. The 30 titles in the series were some of the first chapter books that my son and his friends read, and still among my favorite books to read aloud to him.
The stories chronicle the hilarious kindergarten and first-grade adventures of the opinionated and exasperating Junie Beatrice Jones, who dislikes her middle name, insisting on "just B, and that's all." Junie B narrates the story in first person using endearingly creative grammar and words like "beautifuller." Junie B's poor grammar and misbehavior have led some parents and teachers to ban Park's books, claiming they set a bad example. But others find the bad example a great teaching opportunity. My sons would often spot Junie B's mistakes, both grammar and otherwise, suggesting ways she could have avoided the trouble she often brings on herself.
In memory of Park, we've started rereading the Junie B Jones stories, and following are a few of our family's favorites.
"Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus." This is the first book in the series. The plucky heroine is just about to start kindergarten, which, she points out, "is where you go to meet new friends and not watch TV." She's also a bit freaked out by the idea of riding the school bus. Junie B makes friends, meets her teacher, causes an astounding amount of chaos, and then meets the school principal. Junie B's irrational fears and quirky observations are laughable, but since she is such a believable 5-year old girl, they are also understandable.
"Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying." Junie B decides she wants to become a spy. She's pretty sure she'll be good at it because she has sneaky feet, and her nose doesn't whistle when she breathes. Junie can't pass up the chance to spy on her teacher when sees her in the grocery store. When she witnesses the teacher sampling some grapes without paying, she's shocked to learn that grown-ups aren't perfect. It's a sweet story for kids and adults, with the comforting message that everyone makes mistakes.
"Junie B. Jones Toothless Wonder." Junie B is the first person in class to lose a front baby tooth and she's not exactly thrilled about it. She's concerned that she'll look like her friend's toothless Uncle Lou, and has some serious misgivings about the tooth fairy. She convinces herself and her friends that the tooth fairy is a witch who steals teeth to eat. My son loves the part where Junie B's mother challenges her spooky description of the tooth fairy and Junie B gets annoyed with her, "I rolled my eyes way up to the ceiling. 'Cause sometimes I have to explain everything to that woman."
The young boys and girls I know, love the Junie B. Jones stories. They can relate to the struggles of a person with only 5 years of life experience trying to make sense of an often confusing world. Park perfectly captures that innocence through Junie B's unfiltered thoughts and dialogue. Her character is good at heart and refreshingly honest, sometimes talking back to adults, but she's not overly sophisticated or smart-alecky. She's a regular, flawed person, at times egocentric and bratty, but her intentions are good and the lessons she learns along the way are positive.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.