A little glitter can turn your whole day around.Barbara Park
Growing up, I was fortunate to have strong female figures and encouraging male figures in my life, all pushing me to be the best version of myself.
Books are my place of happiness, for they create worlds where I can interact with loud outspoken characters like Jo from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Laura from Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Junie B. Jones from the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park.
All the while I can be curled up in a quiet corner with my cup of tea…I think I adopted the personality of an upbeat eighty year old around the age of seven :).
Because I had such wonderful leaders in my life, they pushed me to read empowering books such as the ones above. Junie B. Jones specifically is an extremely important series for all young children. Park created narratives that accept all children with open arms, specifically those who deal with big emotions and struggle to be “perfect”.
On a feminist level, when Park created a series that speaks to all genders, she enabled all people to be pushed to understand that a little girl can be angry, loud, and spirited all whilst being friendly, happy, and funny.
“There are those who believe that the value of a children’s book can be measured only in terms of the moral lessons it tries to impose or the perfect role models it offers. Personally, I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. In fact, I happen to think that’s huge.”
― Barbara Park
As a child, Junie B. Jones was comforting to me, because her character showed that children are not perfect.
They make mistakes.
More importantly, she showed me that it is okay for young girls to make mistakes and get angry. I grew up with two older brothers who relentlessly picked on me…believe me, I got angry.
“And sometimes when you’re very mixed-up inside, you do things you know you shouldn’t do.”
― Barbara Park
In a country and world where little girls are force fed the idea that they should play with dolls rather than grab a nerf gun and wrestle in the backyard, Junie B. Jones creates representation for those young children who don’t fit into their perfect societal mold.
Who is Junie B. Jones?
In 1992, Barbara Park published her first copy of Junie B. Jones, Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus. Since 1992, over 60 million copies of Junie B. Jones books have been sold, not including those translated from English.
Her books have been discussed and listed by Newsweek, Time, The New York Times (Junie B. Jones spent over 180 weeks as #1 on the best seller list), and USA Today. After 32 years of working to make children laugh, Park died from Ovarian cancer. She fought for seven and a half years.
Barbara Park, a woman as lively as Junie B. Jones, had a deep connection to her character:
“I’ve never been sure whether Junie B.’s fans love her in spite of her imperfections . . . or because of them. But either way, she’s gone out into the world and made more friends than I ever dreamed possible.”
― Barbara Park
Why is there controversy behind the books?
Rising to great popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s, Junie B. Jones also rose in controversy. Readers, aka parents, have been and continue to be split 50/50 in positive or negative reviews. The most consistent problems parents have are with vocabulary and morals used by Junie B. Jones.
Junie B. Jones ranges from five to seven years old throughout her series. Park purposely wrote the books from Junie’s point of view. She did an outstanding job by using vocabulary a child that age would primarily use. For instance, she uses words (sometimes made up, sometimes just silly sounding) like, beautifuller, whishy, gushy, ‘nuoncement, and grumpity.
This type of writing simultaneously acts as a form of humor and a way to include all children. By writing this way, children feel accepted and welcome, like they are simply reading about their little friend’s day, which is a unique and special connection.
Although children and most parents don’t have a problem with the vocabulary because it makes them giggle and feel included, there are parents who want the books banned because of the language.
Those who feel negatively about Junie B. Jones’ vocabulary believe it will teach their children that they can use made up words or speak without proper grammar. This theory of theirs may be true; however, is it really that much of a problem when it impacts children, specifically little girls, so positively?
The other reason some parents want the series to be banned or at the least not encouraged to read, is because they believe that Junie B. Jones’ morals are troubling and when she makes mistakes she is not punished. I believe this is a very negative way to look at the series and it is instilling in children that little girls are not allowed to be angry, make mistakes, or be loud.
Our society has come a long way in pushing girls to be emotionally rounded people; however, movements like: pushing for Junie B. Jones to be banned because she is angry, are what make us take two steps backwards.
“Cause punishment takes the friendly right out of you.”
― Barbara Park
Although Junie B. Jones has encountered a high amount of controversy, Barbara Park has been ranked among a notable group of authors. According to the New York Times, “In 2004 Barbara Park was selected as one of the American Library Association’s 10 Most Frequently Challenged Authors, alongside Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and John Steinbeck.”
Why is it important for young children?
Representation is one of the keys to equality.
Not only does Junie B. Jones show little girls that they can feel a wide range of emotions, including anger, it also shows little boys that the little girls next to them are more than just fragile porcelain dolls.
I hope there are more Barbara Parks in the world who create books for those who are perfectly imperfect.
I hope there are more parents and teachers who encourage children to read books that teach them that making mistakes is okay and to always remember to giggle.