Junie B. Jones: Mom Versus The Kids

Of my twins’ fictional “friends,” Junie B. Jones is my least favorite.

She has a penchant for troublemaking, she’s sometimes rude, and her grammar needs improvement. In many ways, she’s a typical six-year-old, but that doesn’t make her a good role model for my girls, for whom books are a tool to develop their imaginations and their grasp of the English language.

Barbara Park’s series, narrated by Junie B., has been controversial among parents and educators since its introduction two decades ago. Some applaud the series for creating a realistic character with whom six-year-olds identify, thus encouraging them to read, while others abhor June B.’s behavior and grammar.

There are many books that feature children who haven’t yet learned proper grammar — or as close to “proper” grammar as we speak these days! — but those books are often intended for older children who aren’t struggling with basic language “rules” the way typical five or six-year-olds are struggling.

I’m a pretty laid back parent, particularly when it comes to reading material for my kids, but I’d never encourage them to read Junie B. Jones books. That said, I wouldn’t prevent my kids from reading them either.

One of my twins “befriended” Junie B. in kindergarten, when her teacher read these books to the class. The teacher is a proponent of “kid writing,” making Junie B. books more palatable to him than they are to me. Now, other books have found their way into our home via the library and gifts from friends. So, we have several Junie B. books, and my twins read them.

As they prepared for first grade, my twins were particularly interested in reading Junie B., First Grader (at last!). They could’ve read it on their own, but I decided to read it with them, even though every line of it was like nails on a chalkboard to me:

Junie B. Jones At Last“Well, here we are, Junie B.,” [Daddy] said. “First grade. At last.”

My stomach had flutterflies in it.

Also, my arms had prickly goose bumps. And my forehead had drops of sweaty.

“I am a wreck,” I said.

Daddy smiled very nice.

[…] I looked at him a real long time.

Then I quick spun around. And I zoomed down the hall as fast as I could!

I tolerate it for the sole purpose of using it as the basis for a discussion about appropriate behavior and grammar. Thankfully, my twins’ grammar is far better than Junie B.’s, and so they actually correct the text as we go along.

Thankfully, they were also far more excited about first grade than Junie B. was. As of yesterday, my twins are officially “graders” (at last!):

First grade today
“Graders” was a pejorative term my twins used last year to refer to the older kids at their school (1st-4th grade). They don’t use the term quite so contemptuously now that they’re “graders” too. 😉

23 thoughts on “Junie B. Jones: Mom Versus The Kids

  1. Pingback: Parenting Without The “Gatekeepers”: Who’s Afraid of the Self-Published Children’s Book? | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  2. What a great discussion you started! Thanks for posting this.

    My youngest struggled mightily to learn to read. Years later we understood what was contributing to her learning difficulties, but as a Kindergartener and through second grade it was excruciating for her. Junie B. was one of the book series and characters that helped her break through. She’s now an exemplary adult whose boss just asked me last weekend if I had any other children that she could hire!

    We talked about language and behavior in the books, for sure, but it was more often my kids who would would bring up the outrageous things that Junie did or said.

    Dr. Seuss was certainly not a language rule follower, but we relish reading those books with our kids.

    In my experience the misbehavior and poor grammar in these books can be a great learning tool for young readers and speakers, as well as children beginning to navigate social situations on their own.

    1. You must so proud of your daughter! It’s wonderful to hear how Junie B. helped her become a stronger reader. My girls don’t need Junie B. in the same way–they read a wide variety of books already–and so the benefits of the series aren’t as important in my household. At the same time, the potential harm of Junie B.’s reinforcement of poor grammar is minimal. My girls’ other fictional friends mitigate whatever harm Junie B. could cause. So, I allow my girls to read those books, even though it’s not my favorite series.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective on Junie B.!

  3. We read several Junie B Jones books. I think this is one of those cases where you have to know your kids. If Junie’s “creative language” is going to confuse your child, it’s a bad choice. But if your child is already secure or knows enough to realize that it’s funny instead of correct, they can be fun. 🙂

    Congrats on your first graders! My little guy starts first grade tomorrow.

    1. I hope your son is enjoying first grade! My girls love their teachers, and they are just so excited to see their friends again.
      Junie B. is definitely a good choice for some kids. I don’t think her “kid language” will set my girls’ back, but I wish it reinforced better grammar than it does.

  4. Oh goodness, I didn’t realize that Junie B’s grammar was so crappy. I bought a set of Junie B Jones for my newest “niece” because her name is Junie. Actually, she got Junie B Jones and Curious George because we didn’t know if she was going to be a Junie or a George until she arrived. Oh well. If she’d anything like her older brother, she’ll do just fine in spite of my questionable book gifting.

    1. Junie is such a cute name! Honestly, even knowing what I know about Junie B., I’d still probably have given the series as a gift to her. She’s bound to find out about Junie B. eventually, and kids really love those books. So, I wouldn’t worry about it!

  5. Jaclyn

    I vaguely remember Junie B., but she’s after my time so I must have encountered her while babysitting. I don’t remember anything about the grammar, but I expect that when E is old enough to read Junie, she’ll set my teeth on edge too. (That sample – wow.) Love that your girls correct her!

    1. I can’t recall coming across Junie B. until my daughter starting bringing home the books from the library (after her kindergarten teacher introduced the character to her). It’s really atrocious reading material. That sample isn’t even the worst of it (I just wanted to choose a passage that talked about first grade). I hope Peanut ends up skipping Junie B. books, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up reading them. The series is very popular at my girls’ school. Ugh!

  6. Literary Feline

    I am not familiar with the author of this set of books. I imagine at some point I will be though. I am not sure how I will react. Probably much the same way you have. I love that your daughters correct Junie B.’s grammar. 🙂

    Congratulations to your daughters are being 1st graders!

    1. Thank you! My girls really loved the first week of school. I’m so glad. 🙂

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Mouse eventually brings home Junie B. books too. They’re very popular in kindergarten and first grade. I’m tolerating it (I think that dissuading my girls from reading them would send a more harmful message), but it’s tough!

  7. I remember when they were released and I think they’re a great tool for reluctant readers, but I agree with you that I wouldn’t encourage kids to read them! And congrats to the twins!

    1. Junie B. was released a few years after I would’ve been the appropriate age to read them. I had no idea they were so controversial until my daughter started bringing them home from the library. She’s not a reluctant reader, but I don’t want to send the message that what her teacher is reading to the class is wrong/bad/inappropriate. It’s tough to tolerate, though! Thanks for stopping by!

  8. As a teacher, I never really like Junie B Jones either. I struggled with the series, but in the end I always had it in my classroom because so many of my students like the books. I finally decided reading those were better than not reading anything, but it wasn’t easy for me when I felt like there were so many other options out there.

    1. I completely understand your ambivalence about this series! It’s great that it encourages kids to read, but Junie just isn’t a good role model for kids. I don’t think she’ll set my girls’ back–they’re surrounded by kids who are still learning basic grammar–but it would’ve been nice if the series reinforced what my kids are learning at school and at home.

  9. I didn’t like her either. Fortunately, my daughter also loved Frank L. Baum’s Oz books, which are, you know, sometimes just a little too precious (even for me) but I do love his prose style. They can be charming read-alouds, and my daughter started with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when she was in kindergarten.

  10. Cute kids. I don’t have kids, but if I ever do, I plan on being laid back in their reading choices. My reading was never moderated – I tend to think that I’m better off for that. That being said, I agree strongly that reading should be hands on. I love that you allow them to choose, but you read and talk about the books with them. That seems like good (and smart) parenting!

  11. Aahh, Junie B.
    I am not sorry that phase is over for my kids. Captain Underpants still lingers on my son’s bookshelf, though.
    Unlike yours, my kids are very reluctant readers. My oldest latched on to Junie B. Jones and I encouraged it, because she had rejected all the other books I’d presented. For her, it was more Junie’s behavior that she found inappropriate. She also told me the school librarian had commented while reading Junie B. out loud to the kids that they should not, under any circumstances, think it was “okay” to speak or write like Junie (which I thought was very funny)
    She is still a reluctant reader, and in some ways I miss the Junie B. years.

    Congratulations on having first graders! What a big step. Your girls are beautiful, and I love the image of them correcting Junie’s grammar as they read. So sweet!

    1. Thank you! My girls are loving first grade so far. 🙂

      The Junie B. books certainly have their merits, particularly for reluctant readers. My girls don’t need that type of encouragement, so there are few benefits to the series that would outweigh its drawbacks. Still, in some ways, it isn’t like my girls don’t interact with kids like Junie B. on a daily basis. The books won’t set them back, but it would be nice if their reading time was spent on books that reinforced proper grammar.

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