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THE LAST WORD

To me, 'Junie B. Jones' books are among the bestest ever

Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 1:32 pm

I love to hear my daughter read “Junie B. Jones” books to my granddaughter.

She picks them up at the library regularly, and I often find myself sitting close by and having a grand time snickering as she reads the stories from the mind of author Barbara Park.

The reason I bring this up is that Park died last week at 66 after a long fight with ovarian cancer. She wrote 30 books, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, about Junie B. since 1992, which have sold more than 55 million copies in North America, according to publisher Random House.

As Park's obituary story by The Associated Press put it, “The books' titles were windows into Junie's slangy mind.”

Among the titles: “Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth,” “Junie B. Jones and That Meanie Jim's Birthday,” “Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying.”

It's interesting that there have been critics of the books because of Junie B.'s language and impudence. Some say the little girl is a bad influence on Park's readers. In The New York Times' story about Park's death, the writer says, “Junie's diction is characterized by an imperfect grasp of English grammar: She favors superlatives like 'bestest' and 'funnest' and past tenses like 'runned' and 'thinked.'”

Park wrote the books in the first-person voice of Junie B. (The author is said to have been a bit of a sassy clown herself in elementary school), and that's what is so delightful.

The first 17 books in the series all begin the same way:

“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don't like Beatrice. I just like B and that's all.”

In the first book in the series in 1992, “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus,” following the standard intro, the story continues:

“I'm almost six years old.

“Almost six is when you get to go to kindergarten. Kindergarten is where you go to meet new friends and not watch TV.”

A little later on:

“My teacher shook my hand. Only our hands don't fit together that good.

“Her name was Mrs. — I can't remember the rest of it. Mrs. said I looked cute.

“'I know it,' I said. 'That's because I have on my new shoes.'

“I held my foot way high in the air.

“'See how shiny they are? Before I put them on, I licked them.'”

From “Junie B Jones and That Meanie Jim's Birthday”:

“B is my bestest letter. On account of my favorite food starts with that guy.

“Its name is birthday cake.

“We had that delicious stuff at school today.”

From “Junie B. Jones and the Mushy Gushy Valentime”:

“Today at school, my teacher had a 'nouncement to make.

“A 'nouncement is the school word for listen to me … and I MEAN it.”

I love the books because of the humor and the voice, which both stem from a saucy, independent-thinking almost-6-year-old who goes to afternoon kindergarten. Actually, after several years of being stuck in kindergarten, Park finally graduated Junie B. to first grade as a 6-year-old in Book 18 in 2001.

And age 6 is where she will now remain for all posterity.

Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.