November 18, 2013

RIP, Junie B.

Hearing about the death of Barbara Park this weekend almost broke my heart. 

Earlier this year, when Zoe and I were getting ready to embark on our six months of "home-schooling" (in quotes because I had no idea what I was doing...and since it was Pre-K we were pretty flexible), one of her teachers handed me a list of books she loved reading aloud with kids. The Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park topped it.

I tucked the list away for a rainy day and instead we started out with Charlotte's Web. I read it to her for hours on end, snuggled up under blankets on the couch. Zoe listened, wide-eyed and attentive, but very passive.

Since the late spring and early summer turned out to be an especially rainy one here in Charleston, and we spent a lot of time inside, that rainy-day list of books came to mind one day, and Zoe and I headed to the library. 

We borrowed the first book in the Junie B. Jones series - Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Smelly Bus - and even the title made us both laugh. Almost immediately, I noticed a difference while I read to Zoe. Instead of passively listening, she was giggling. Interrupting to ask questions...and often to pass judgment on the behavior or little Miss Junie B. 

We went back to the library for more Junie B. books later that week. She received most of the first half of the series from relatives for her birthday. We read them and re-read them and read them some more, giggling together the whole time.

I know there are plenty of critics of these books. Junie B. is by no means a model citizen, and her slang speech and bad grammar make plenty of teachers cringe. I understand that.

But I don't agree. Because if they get kids reading...there's nothing better than that, in my opinion.

These were the first books Zoe would ask to read, over and over. When she started reading, they were the first books she tried to read aloud back to me. They became our books, the ones we always read together.

They still are.

I haven't told Zoe yet that Barbara Park died this weekend. I'm not sure how she'll react. Recent history says she'll ask some practical question and move on pretty quickly, but if there's one thing I've learned about parenting it's that recent history often means nothing when something strikes a child as particularly sad. 

So I may not tell her, yet. I may ask Santa and the Hanukkah Fairy to round out her collection, to keep our own story going. Barbara Park may be gone, but for Zoe and me, Junie B. Jones still has a lot more to teach us.

Zoe made this picture on the Junie B. Jones web site.
Zoe and Junie B. Perfect together.

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