Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Junie B. Jones

Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook
Written by: Barbara Park
Illustrated by: Denise Brunkus

Goodness. Can I really write about the controversial series of Junie B. Jones? Well, today yes I can, because yesterday we laughed our socks off at Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook.

What is so controversial about this innocent young lady named Junie B. Jones? Shall I start with the good or the not so good? Let me start with the good, and keep it to what I think it good and then I will start with the not so good, and keep it to what I think is the not so good myself.

So good stuff first off --these books are hilarious! This Junie B. character is very funny, and author Barbara Park obviously has a knack for humor. She created her five-year-old character based on a "wild child" (in her words) from another book of hers, The Kid in The Red Jacket, which I have yet to read. Although Junie B. is a bit rambunctious, and definitely exaggerated, she is also just that sort of kid, and she also has a good heart. She reminds me of a kid or two I know, only she is just a little bit more overdone, making her a bit more funny in her bookish sort of way.

After reading a handful of Junie B. books aloud I think it is safe to say that most of the books in this series have a moral. The moral is most often one your children already know, but at the very least they will figure it out far before Junie B., and that inevitably makes them feel quite smart, and quite moral, which is a good thing! In Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook, Junie B. learns about the Lost and Found and that "finders keepers, losers weepers" is perhaps not such a good rule after all --especially when it involves your special fuzzy black mittens from Grandpa, but even when it involves a handy dandy pen that writes in four colors that you really wish you could keep!

Although Park's writing is exaggerated, the feelings are quite often on the mark with real children. I can remember thinking my school secretary was quite mean and nasty, even if I wasn't articulate enough to call her to myself "the grouchy typing lady" --that is precisely what I thought of her. Junie B. is a character who makes mistakes, like all children, but typically ends up realizing them and fixing them up. She gets in trouble at school, like some other wild children I know, and she talks a lot, kind of like the author did when she was young. If your child is not that kind of kid, you can bet she knows someone who is!

On to the not so good things about the Junie B. Jones series-- and well, that has to do with the language. Wait! Not that kind of language! I mean the grammar and word choices! Here's the dilemma, in my mind: Junie B. has some exceptional use of vocabulary, like using "attractive winter coat" rather than her cute or pretty or favorite coat, which is more likely to come out of a five-year-old's mouth. This vocabulary combined with the inability to use correct past tense and other standard fiver-year-old grammar seems a little unrealistic. Typically by five most kids use better grammar more of the time than Junie B., unless they are having some problems in the language area. If they are having some problems in the language area, they are very unlikely to use sophisticated descriptive terms (as cute as they are) like Junie B. does. What I think the author is going for, is to make this little character of hers realistic but also exaggerated, and both the unfortunate grammar and fancy terms play a part. It is an effective technique! It may not be realistic, but it seems to do the job. Children find this girl funny, and this improper language combined with many great descriptive terms adds to the humor.

What if your child has some grammar or language issues herself? Should you stay away from Junie B.? Well, that is a matter of opinion. I will tell you my opinion, which is somewhere in the midst of the trenches of motherhood with rusty speech language pathology skills floating around in my head. If my child was struggling with grammar this book wouldn't be my first pick. However, if my child was also a struggling reader and I was struggling to find something captivating, I absolutely would not be deterred from Junie B. This series has proven to be highly rated and enjoyed by children, which would override my concern about any ill effects towards my child's language usage. I think the humor and enjoyment would outweigh the possible detriment, especially if I were engaging in many quality language rich activites --like talking to my child with proper language myself and reading many other quality books aloud. Children do learn by listening, and they do tend to imitate what they read, so personal judgement and perhaps professional judgement should be used in each situation! For those children with typically developing language, I would not be concerned in the least that this would affect normal speech and language as they are likely to have acquired normal grammar by the time this book is read or read aloud to them, and the incorrectness will only add to what they find humorous. But they might even pick up some cute vocabulary, like attractive!

Finally, do I feel slightly guilty reading a beginner's chapter book aloud when these are so well-suited for reading independently? Well, not guilty enough. If I hesitate to turn the mixer on because I won't be able to hear my husband reading Junie B.'s ending remarks -- it is obvious this is a good read aloud choice! If my husband will come into the room and color with the younger child and encourage me to keep reading to the children please (because he gets a kick out of these books also) then this has become an entire family read aloud --and that is of value. But you can bet these same books, likely along with the rest of this beginning chapter book series will be read independently also at a later date. That is a good thing! Reading, but also enjoying, are worthy goals.

Next on the Junie B. agenda is Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy. My niece tells me this is her favorite. This niece reminds me an awful lot of Junie B. and my children and I can't wait to laugh all the way through it!

To hear more about the Junie B. debate, read this fun insightful article here.

1 comment:

Me said...

2 of my neices LOVE Junie B. Jones books. The younger one (who is a beginner reader) turns on a book on CD and falls asleep listening to Junie. I've loved what I've heard and read of them. :)