Barbara Park, “mother” of Junie B. Jones, leaves behind millions of happy child readers

If there is one favorite book of little girls learning to read in English, it is every book starring Junie B. Jones, the rambunctious kindergartener and then first grader, who so often gets in trouble for being herself. With more than 55 million copies of “Junie B. Jones” books in circulation, author Barbara Park has reached millions of children with the antics of her sassy child character, Junie B., and her friends Lucille, that Grace, William, and Meanie Jim.Girl reading Junie B. Jones.

Sadly, there will be no more “Junie B. Jones” books. Author Barbara Park died on Friday, November 15.

I first used Junie B. books to teach children how to read with a Korean-born girl who didn’t know what to make of the cheeky kindergartener, laughing out loud at the silly ways Junie B. used to avoid taking the school bus home. At first we read together, but eventually my student couldn’t wait for a whole week to pass before starting another Junie B. book. She took them out of the library four or five at a time. When book number 26, “Aloah-ha-ha,” was about to be published, she was tingling with excitement and rushed to the book store the day it came out. She lent me that book after she read it, but told me I needed to return it so her brother could read it when he was old enough.

Another little girl whom I introduced to Junie B. stayed up late into the night reading with a flashlight.

If you are not familiar with Park’s series, the books are appropriate for students who have mastered basic phonics skills—short and long-vowel words, and some multi-syllabic words. For students who are not there yet, reading with an adult or older child is a way to enjoy Junie B.’s antics, with the adult reading the parts the child cannot.

Start your child with the first book, “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid, Smelly Bus.” You will be hooked by the ebullient Junie B. who hides atop a pile of construction paper in a kindergarten cupboard while her teacher walks the students to the buses. Later, when the school is empty, Junie B. uses her teacher’s new modeling clay, and sneaks into the nurse’s office and tries on bandages and crutches, all blithely unaware that her frantic teacher, mother and the police are searching for her.

The stories are so humorous that children find them page-turners. Clever line drawings throughout the books add to their appeal. In one book, Junie B. thinks her mother has given birth to a monkey. In another, she receives a Valentine from a secret admirer. Junie B. practices to be a beautician by cutting her own hair. She dresses up for career day by copying the school janitor, whose large ring of keys she admires so much.

Sometimes Junie B. says things the wrong way which children find funny. But she makes the same kinds of mistakes that all children do when they learn English. In some of the books, Junie B. keeps a journal in which she crosses out mistakes and fixes them.

But it is her wacky world view that lures children to read book after book. Like J. K. Rowling with her “Harry Potter” series, Barbara Park has created an unforgettable child character set in the familiar world of kindergarten and first grade. When my granddaughter was learning to read in kindergarten, I gave her a set of Junie B. kindergarten books. When my granddaughter started first grade, I gave her a set of Junie B. first grade books. When she lost a tooth, we read “Junie B., First Grader Toothless Wonder.”

Luckily for us, Barbara Park’s work lives on, and Junie B. Jones will be engaging young readers for generations to come.

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