I would have never known about Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones books if my younger daughter hadn't been just the right age to catch on and bring the books home. I enjoyed reading them with her very much, and immediately recognized the character as a delightful 1990s version of Ramona G. Quimby, the inquisitive kindergarten scamp of my own generation.
What made Junie B. Jones different was the first-person voice created for her by Barbara Park -- a voice that dared to capture the real word patterns and thought processes of a little kid. Junie's sentences are blunt, stubby and hilariously self-centered.
Daddy and I have a surprise for you, Junie B.", said Mother.
And so then I got very happy inside. Because maybe I didn't have to eat my stewie pewie tomatoes.
And also sometimes a surprise means a present! And presents are my very favorite things in the whole world!
I bounced up and down.
"What is it? Is it all wrapped up? I don't see it," I said very excited.
Then I looked under the table. Because maybe the surprise was hiding down there with a red ribbon on top. of it.
Mother and Daddy smiled at each other. Then Mother held my hand.
"Junie B., how would you like to have a little baby brother or sister?" she said.
I made my shoulders go up and down.
"I don't know. Maybe," I told her.
Then I looked under my chair.
"Guess what?" I said. "I can't find that silly willy present anywhere."
Mother made me sit up. Then she and my daddy said some more stuff about a baby.
"The baby will be yours, too, Junie B." Daddy said. "Just think. You'll have your very own little brother or sister to play with. Won't that be fun?"
I did my shoulders up and down again. "I don't know. Maybe," I said.
Then I got down from my chair and ran into the living room.
"BAD NEWS, FELLAS!" I hollered very loud. "THE PRESENT ISN"T IN THIS DUMB BUNNY ROOM, EITHER!"
She doesn't care very much about the rules of grammar or proper word variations, and she has a wonderful way with "Guess what".
I am in the grade of kindergarten. It is the afternoon kind.
Afternoon kindergarten is better than morning kindergarten. That's because you get to sleep late. And watch cartoons.
Only guess what? Today my baby brother named Ollie waked me up very too early.
He was screaming for his bottle.
But screaming is not polite. And so he needed some discipline, I think.
I sat up in my bed.
"HEY! SHUT UP YOUR FACE!" I hollered.
Junie B. quickly assigns labels to new people she meets, and sticks with them forever:
My teacher shook my hand. Only our hands didn't fit together that good.
Her name was Mrs. --. I can't remember the rest of it. Mrs. said I looked cute.
Who was this crazy Junie B. Jones that my daughter had brought home? Naturally, at first I couldn't see past the comparison to Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby. But Beverly Cleary wrote Ramona the Pest in third person. It was as if Barbara Park created Junie B. Jones by burrowing deep into the childish mind of Ramona Quimby, and letting her tell stories from the inside out.
Barbara Park died of ovarian cancer on November 15, at the age of 66. Her great young character will surely live on.