Thursday, July 26, 2007

SPOGG Endorses Junie B. Jones

It's funny that our newsletter just mentioned the Junie B. Jones book series; the New York Times today has a long story on the debate over the grammar in the books.

An excerpt follows, but we will point out a few serious factual errors in the piece:

1) Junie B. did not want to name her brother Gladys Gutzman. She wanted to name herself "Pinkie Gladys Gutzman," because pinkie is the most beautifulest color, and Gladys Gutzman hands out snacks in the cafeteria and who wouldn't want to be associated with that? She did, however, think her baby brother was a monkey.

2) Junie B.'s antics do receive punishment. When she cut her hair, for example, she was forced to cover her "sprigs" with two hats and a shower cap, and later was humiliated at school for said headgear.

For the record, SPOGG is a huge fan of Junie B. Jones. Parents who refuse to read it because of the grammar are missing serious hilarity, as well as the opportunity to point out the errors and talk about language with their kids. Kids would much rather you correct a book character's grammar than their own, so it's actually a terrific teaching opportunity.

What's more, it's brilliant writing. The author, Barbara Park, captures the language and thinking of young children beautifully -- very much like Mark Twain captured a certain sort of youth in Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Anyone who doesn't like this sort of thing can always clip the "Gallant" pages out of Highlights for their kids. He's a bag-load of correct and clean fun. Yawn.

Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?
AT her all-day princess-theme party for her graduation from preschool, Lyra Alvis had her face painted, went first down the water slide and was even allowed to eat the flower on the cake. “It was the best day of my life,” said Lyra, 5, who lives in

At least until bedtime. That is when her father, Lance Alvis, did something he’d never done before: Midway through a book that was a gift from a friend, he insisted she pick out something different to read.

“But I love this book,” Lyra said.

The paperback in question was about Junie B. Jones, the hero of a popular Random House early reading series that has divided parents since it was introduced 15 years ago. With more than 43 million copies in print and a stage show touring the country, the series has its share of die-hard fans and is required summer reading at many elementary schools.

But more than a few parents have taken issue with Junie B., as she is called. Their disagreement is a pint-size version of the lingering education battle between advocates of phonics, who believe children should be taught proper spelling and grammar from the outset, and those who favor whole language, a literacy method that accepts misspellings and other errors as long as children are engaged in reading and writing.

The spunky kindergartener (first grader in more recent volumes) is prone to troublemaking, often calls people names and isn’t averse to talking back to her teachers. And though she is the narrator of the stories, she struggles with grammar. Her adverbs lack the suffix “ly”; subject and object pronouns give her problems, as do possessives; she usually isn’t able to conjugate irregular past tense verbs; and words like funnest and beautifuller are the mainstays of her vocabulary.

Children, however, are not usually strict grammarians. And it’s rare to find a child that isn’t quickly seduced by these silly, often slapstick stories. Even adults who are rankled by Junie B.’s impulsive, oft-unpunished shenanigans (playing with scissors or head-butting other children, for instance), can occasionally laugh at her odd
little-girlisms. They include her passion for fixing toilets with her “grampa,”
her desire to name her little brother “Mrs. Gutzman” after her favorite cafeteria lady, or her belief that green cucumber-like vegetables are named “Sue Keeny.”
Parenthood, though, is full of choices. Breast-feeding: Yea or nay? Muesli or Cap’n Crunch? Public or private school?

And now: To Junie B. or not to Junie B.?

The series has been banned in Lewis and Susan Bartell’s home in Old Westbury, N.Y.“My dad doesn’t like the grammar,” said the Bartells’s youngest, Mollie, 9. “And I guess that’s important, because maybe when you grow up and you’re at work and you say, ‘I runned,’ people will get annoyed at you.”

She added: “I’m also not allowed to watch R-rated movies, but nobody is
these days.”

The series, which had its 27th installment in February, has, like the Harry Potter series, been on the New York Times children’s book series best-seller list since the list was started three years ago.

“Of our series books, it’s the most popular one we have that’s about a little girl,” said Elizabeth Bird, a librarian at the Donnell Library Center’s Central Children’s Room in Midtown Manhattan.

“But it splits people down the middle. There are parents who will defend her till their death and those that call her loathsome. It’s unusual to find that sort of divide for early chapter books. They’re just not the sort of books that usually get much attention.”

Among librarians and teachers, Junie B. has become as familiar a name as Ramona, Pippi or Eloise, but unlike her predecessors she hasn’t been around quite long enough to straddle multiple generations. Many parents in their 20s, 30s and 40s are only now discovering the series as their children enter kindergarten and grammar school.

With every new kindergarten class comes attempts to ban the books. 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.


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