>When good kids show bad judgment

>Today’s NYT article about the popular Junie B. Jones books brings up a number of reasons adults don’t like the series, mostly citing its demonstrations of bullying and other bad behavior. But my heart belong to a Mr. Lewis Bartell, a man mindful of the future:

“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.”

Mollie, that is so true. In fact, I’m already kind of annoyed at you at nine.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. >Aww…she’s cute, Roger. What a great quote. And, she’ll probably grow up to be a great editor, you know.

  2. Anonymous says:

    >I’ve been arguing this for years! I was a bookseller for a time, and whenever someone asked for Junie B. Jones I would give a heartfelt speech and point them in the direction of Cam Jansen.

  3. Anonymous says:

    >hurrah! perhaps this will create a NEW topic – time to drop the endless POTTER discussion

    hurrah for a NEW TOPIC! Maybe we will be spared more of the Potter discussion – at last!

    1

  4. Anonymous says:

    >Two of my four kids have been exceptionally fond of Junie B. in kindergarten and first grade, and both were perfectly able to appreciate the humor in Junie B.’s grammar.

    People overreact. And hearing a seven-year-old read Junie B. aloud is one of life’s true joys.

    Though maybe not for Roger.

  5. Anonymous says:

    >Thought the article was completely ridiculous. Heaven forbid a kid actually likes a book-it might actually lead them to like reading! Great idea to get upset and steer them away from it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    >I’m just going to sit back now and wait for someone to post that if “runned” is what she’s using, then “runned” must be correct. Don’t let the Man tell you how to conjugate!

  7. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yes, Anon4. Just as I suggest in an earlier post that reviewers should take a wait-and-see attitude before publishing a review, now you’ve got me thinking that we should perhaps spare everything from review on the grounds that somebody might like it.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    >Did the current misuse of the word “literally” come from a series we all read years ago, I wonder? I heard it twice today. On a repeat episode of project runway, Nick said “Literally, my heart was in my throat.” Then Al Trautwig, commentating on the Tour de France, said “The greatest dishonor is to literally have the maillot jaune ripped from your body, which is what happened to Michael Rasmussen yesterday.” Actually, that’s not literally what happened. He was told he wouldn’t be allowed to compete in the rest of the race.

    I think the two most popular series with me as a kid were the Bobsey Twins (I did learn a lot of incorrect words from their stereotypical Black maid, including “stuffocated”) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. And now that I think of the Three Investigators books, Jupiter Jones (wasn’t that his name? Wow! Amazingly similar to Junie) seems to me to be a prototype for le Carre’s George Smiley. Physically unprepossessing but literally smart as a whip. But I digress…

  9. yankeerat says:

    >I love the reference in the article about the woman who won’t give away the books, because she doesn’t want anyone else to read them. Now who’s acting like a five year old?

  10. >From the article:

    “But that’s O.K. I’m reading a really good book about a boy whose parents think some of his video games are inappropriate,” Mollie said. “It’s called ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid.’ ”

    My word! Is censorship the only thing parents approve of these days? My mother would let little me read the book on how babies were made for hours on end and National Geographic with pictures of naked tribeswomen because I simply needed to read. Nowadays she’d probably be arrainged for corrupting a minor or something.

  11. Anonymous says:

    >Well, I think we should get rid of the first chapter of The Sound and the Fury, because it is ungrammatical.
    Marian

  12. rindawriter says:

    >I think, actually, if I remember something of my early childhood education classes, she’s quite too old to NOT be using English “correctly” UNLESS she were living in a family around grownups and a culture where English is NOT used correctly.

    That grammar thing, young children don’t have to wait to be taught that. They can absorb the rules and regularities of English that they HEAR spoken very early on, and by two and three years old, they will be running words together in sentences with correct grammar usage, depending on the individual child, his/her abilities, and his/her environemnt.

    So, my opinion is that, when I read the Junie books, this is a little girl who is DELIBERATELY misusing the language in the never ending struggle to self actualize as an individual that we all go through as human beings that get normally socialized.

    Of course, as a copy editor nyself and having to spend large volumes of my adult life in untangling adult grammar of well-educated folks who ought to have gotten through graduate school knowing better (I do not possess such a thing myself, sigh…) just to earn my bread, the bad grammar in Junie irritates me. Quite a bit. It’s rather like eating red hot pepper curry to read the books. You enjoy it, but oh! The brief fierce sting at first!

    However, I find nothing startling in her other behavior either nor anything shocking in that she would use this bad grammar deliberately to get attention, distinguish herself as an individual, test rules and boundaries out as a five-year-old. She’s just going through a phase, to me, and believe me, folks, I have been through the mill with other folks’ two, three, and five year olds! In class and out! I like young children and have done a lot of caretaking of them in my time. And there is huge variety in their personalities.

    The stuff Junie does pales besides the stuff I’ve seen real-life children do at that age!

    I’ve had three-year-olds in class for example that could swear more expertly and longer than anyone on this blog…of course, they then expertly and quickly taught the other children in class to do the same…the parents got really ruffled up and all upset…what’s a poor teacher to do in a situation like that? She can hardly put a gag on the little rascals who are more than smart enought to figure out that they can sit in a chair and make teacher wring her hands and pull her hair…

    So, in comparision to real-life experiences, Junie’s misbehaviors and misused grammar lapses seem awfully mild.

    BTW! I DO NOT ON PRINCIPLE COPY EDIT MY COMMENTS ON ROGER’S BLOG!! I need some place to relax and stay a bit sane…..from a hard day’s work.

    It’s like dressing up. I can do it when it’s necessary and really do it well…but who would wnat to when one can run around in old sloppies and have fun instead…

  13. Cassandra Mortmain says:

    >“Sure, maybe Junie B. isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But when she does things wrong or says things incorrectly, it provides an opportunity to talk about how things should be.”

    This is the quote from the article I most agree with. I really enjoy the books, and I really appreciate Junie’s bad grammar because, from a read-a-loud perspective, it helps me find a great and distinctive voice for Junie, and there’s nothing my students (who do read things other than Harry Potter, I sweaar!) enjoy more than that.

    They’re all at least 7, and so old enough to know Junie’s grammar (and behavior) is something to laugh at, not emulate, but I think they all remember the days before they knew grammar and just had to make it up for themselves and like seeing Junie doing the same.

    And I do a GREAT Junie voice, so I am all in favor of them.

  14. little brother says:

    >Elizabeth –
    WOW! Flashback. I hadn’t so much as had a passign thought of the Three Investigators until I read it in your post and all those book covers flashed immediately in my mind, taking me back to the Dedham Public Library (the old Oakdale branch). Thanks! I wonder whatever happened to my copies of those books….maybe my older brother stole them.

  15. >On the subject of irregular verbs: Yesterday my four-year-old said she “puck” a flower.

    I just had to say that.

  16. Roger Sutton says:

    >But Cassandra inadvertently points out my problem with the series. Readers are supposed to recognize that Junie’s grammar is incorrect; that’s why it’s funny. That’s a variant on the aren’t-kids-cute kind of humor that already plagues children’s books. We hate it when picture books make jokes for adults at the characters’ expense; how is this different?

  17. >It’s different because (unlike the vast majority of children’s books, where kids prefer to read about characters who are at least their age, or older) the series is aimed at children a year or two older than Junie. They enjoy the humor for the same reason adults do–because they are older and know better.

  18. Roger Sutton says:

    >That’s right, and it’s always easier to laugh at one’s inferiors than it is at oneself. To laugh at somebody who doesn’t know any better always has a streak of sadism.

  19. >I haven’t thought about Jupiter Jones and the Three Investigators in a very long time (literally, heh). Wow. Now I’m going to have to try to find one or two.

  20. Anonymous says:

    >Most kids who, at ages three & four, were speaking “correct” English, conjugating properly etc., still go through a phase of grammatical confusion around ages five & six. They become conscious of the rules of language & over-apply those rules to new and even familiar words.

    Younger and same age kids also enjoy Junie B. because of the situations represented. The bad grammar may make it funny or irritating (or both) to the adults reading the books, but the younger kids seem to respond to the predicaments the character creates.

    I stopped reading the series because the adults are uniformly mean and nagging. Probably that’s what makes it enjoyable from a kid’s pov!

  21. Anonymous says:

    >Oh, honestly, are you really calling all of the kids who love to read the Junie books sadists? Please. They aren’t laughing to be cruel. They are laughing because they can relate.
    Marian

  22. Anonymous says:

    >a welcome change from the endless Potteristics! but seriously, folks, don’t you recognize that this is simply what a childless adult thinks a cute little kid sounds like? the author would do the same sort of thing with a black or asian character. if kids enjoy being patronized LET THEM READ THE BOOKS. (in other words, GROW UP !)

  23. >I think kids laugh at Junie B. in the same way adults laughed at Lucille Ball. Is that sadistic?

  24. >Roger, do you think AMELIA BEDELIA is sadistic? CURIOUS GEORGE? Or any of the other umpteen well-loved books in which small children have the rare opportunity to laugh at someone who doesn’t know as much as they do?

    Anon, do you know anything at all about Barbara Park and her books? Or are you just mouthing off?

  25. Anonymous says:

    >there is a cutesy style that would-be professional chilit writers adopt – any reader of unsoliciteds can spot it – and many successful professionals have it, too. has nothing to do with age,sex, or number of offspring

  26. rindawriter says:

    >Just to add, after thinking about Roger’s comments, I do think the Junie books are not all they could potentially be mainly, not because of the bad grammar which in and of itself is mildly irritating/maybe pleasurable, but because Junie does not always experience consequences for her behavior that are serious enough to make her grow as a character, and that element, in the Ramona books, I do appreciate. Ramona can be awful, but she does change, does grow. She’s a real person, not cutsy-cutsy all the time, and the cutsy-cutsy part, I do find annoysome (ha! new word there)with Junie B.

    I am not sure that the character, series, books are sadistic, strictly speaking, but I do think the writing genius of Cleary is very evident to me in contrast. She has done both, made an enduring series with a very popular character that younger children like to read about who is both funny and who also grows! Like children are supposed to do.

    The writer of Junie is a clever, talented writer, but she is not at all on Cleary’s level.

  27. Roger Sutton says:

    >I think laughing at someone for being stupider than oneself does have some cruelty in it, yes. (There’s a lot of sadism in I Love Lucy.) Humor is generally at the expense of someone, and that doesn’t in itself offend me. What I don’t like about Junie B. is the way it’s packaged as cuteness. I’m reminded of the discussion re “feisty” we had a while back–Junie’s sauciness and her cute way with words are meant to be adorable and thus completely lacking in any real power. Unlike Ramona, she is not a creature to be reckoned with.

  28. Anonymous says:

    >Can we discuss Harry Potter again?
    Pwetty pwease wif sugar on top?

  29. Roger Sutton says:

    >Cock-a-doodie friggin no!–Annie Wilkes, hitting Anonymous in the knee with a two-by-four.

  30. >I think the new Ramona is not Junie B., but Clementine (who is also amusing without meaning to be).

    Rebuttal?

  31. >Disagree where I Love Lucy is concerned! The gal always came out on top (in her own way) in the end, and there lies the difference.

  32. >Yes, I will take up your rebuttal, nw.

    I found Clementine to be full of the cutsey-ness factor. For my taste, there was far too much winking at readers over Clementine’s head. In almost every instance, the humor came from Clementine’s own lack of understanding, and a more mature reader’s ability to decipher the true dynamics of her situation.

    In response to an earlier commenter: I would say that Amelia Bedilia is a very different case, because the character in question is an adult. It’s the child reader who has the satisfaction of understanding what the adult does not… in that case I don’t think it’s sadistic; it’s subversive.

  33. >Just to add to the above: I suppose it would be nicer, too, if AB weren’t a housekeeper…

  34. >But Roger, you’re much older than nine! :)

  35. >Reading Junie B. wears me out in the same way that talking to a hyper 5-year-old for that long wears me out.

    But the kids like her. Boys will read her without blinking. Teenagers sneak back into the children’s section and check out bunches of them for “um, my, um, my, ummmmmmmmmmmmmm, cousin! Yeah! They’re for my cousin!”

    But, there’s a difference between not liking a book and reviewing it badly, and not letting your children read it. A *huge* difference. I read a lot of stuff my mother did not approve of (mainly, the collected works of Christopher Pike) but she let me read them. Thank goodness for that.

  36. Anonymous says:

    >I agree with Jenni-I think the article said there were over 40 million copies of the books in print-Junie might annoy some parents (obviously), but that’s stil a huge number of kids reading them and loving them. To me, that’s a miraculous thing-any books that get kids (esp. reluctant readers as Junie often does ) engaged and excited about reading deserves applause, b/c that book-Junie or Amelia Bedelia or even an Archie comic just might change that child’s life and turn him/her into a reader. Getting angry b/c the main child doesn’t use perfect English, seems incredibly petty and is missing the point.

  37. >Okay, I don’t mean to single out Anonymous here, but can someone just explain to me, once and for all, the logic behind this argument about reading? I’ve never gotten it. Why does the act of reading justify that which is read? Why does the fact that someone (only a young someone?) is *reading* forgive– and even defer criticism of– a book’s flaws? Don’t we care about reading, at least partly, because of content… or is reading itself a sacred thing, separate from the text?

    (Or, is this argument founded in a developmental approach… i.e. the young reader will develop a love of reading so as to move on to other, better books?)

    I don’t mean these questions at all facetiously… I really am curious.

  38. Roger Sutton says:

    >I don’t get it either, Ruth. Harry Potter aside, our bestseller lists are currently dominated by James Patterson, who I think is a terrible writer. Lazy, too. People may agree or not with me on that point, but they don’t get all huffy that I’ve insulted public taste. When it comes to kids’ books, though . . . .

  39. Anonymous says:

    >Anon here-my argument is based on the development approach-ideally finding a book that they love/that’s not ‘work’ assigned by an adult but just pure fun, has the potential to open a door for that child and lead them to a future of more and perhaps better books. It’s based on growing up with kids who didn’t love reading and who always thought of books as school work, things they had to read for school and hated. Those kids always made me so sad, and I blame it partly on the books they were reading. There parents weren’t giving them books, so it was up to the teachers. In hs I remember reading Billy Bud, which I’m sorry to say I hated. I’m an avid reader, so that didn’t turn me off reading. But no wonder a lot of the kids I grew up with didn’t get the reading bug-they couldn’t relate to Billy Bud and it definitely didn’t make reading feel like a fun, appealing pleasure time option. And I really do think that’s key-if you find a book that makes reading fun-whether it’s Junie or James Patterson-that can change your whole life. There’s something magical about that. Maybe it’s a socio-economic thing. I see where you all are coming from and respect that viewpoint, but I stand behind my belief that anything that gets a kid reading is a wonderful thing.

  40. Anonymous says:

    >Whoops, and yes that should be ‘Their’ not ‘There’, I’m a terrible copyeditor (or perhaps have read too many Junies.)

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