The (long overdue) banning of Junie B. Jones

In honor of Banned Books Week, I decided to peruse the American Library Association’s list of the Top 100 Banned and Challenged Books from 2000 and 2009.

Beyond books long noted for raising the hackles of literary Neanderthals – including such works as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye – there were some rather odd works on the list.

Not because they are known for being works of unquestionable value to society, as with the three books above, but because they stand out for being rather simplistic, if enjoyable, kids books.

They include: Goosebumps, a series of children’s horror fiction novels; The Stupids, a series of books about a family that draws its humor from the fact that the family is incompetent to the point of confusing the most simple concepts and tasks; Captain Underpants, a series about fourth graders and the aptly named superhero they accidentally create by hypnotizing their principal; The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, a spinoff of Captain Underpants, and the Junie B. Jones series.

With four little girls clamouring to be read to during the past few years, I’m especially familiar with the last entry. Of the more than two dozen Junie B. Jones books that author Barbara Park has written, I’ve read at least 10 to my girls and perhaps as many as 15.

Apparently, though, I’d snoozed over something explosive or subversive. Repeatedly. How else to explain Junie B. Jones’ place on the list, alongside the likes of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Huxley’s Brave New World and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five?

Wikipedia describes Park’s series as exemplifying “many of the comical aspects of childhood: fear of monsters, grammatical errors, dealing with siblings, the first day of school and innocent crushes.”

Junie B. is a rambunctious first grader who mangles phrases and has a typical child’s misperception of things she is unfamiliar with, such as being afraid of roosters because “they can peck your head into a nub,” and clowns because “they are not normal people.”

Still unsure why this innocuous series would be banned or challenged (pressure from the American Rooster lobby?), I turned to Nexis.

The best I could do was a 2008 story by Sylvester Brown of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who wrote: “… people say Park’s character encourages ‘disobedience,’ uses words like ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ and takes liberties with traditional spelling.”

In the words of Junie B. herself: Wowie wow wow!

I’d like to catch a glimpse of the parents who had so little to do with their time and so little self respect that they actually thought it a good idea to file a protest against an entertaining children’s series.

One wonders how they found time to put down Anna Karenina and The Return of the Native to take a stand against disobedient fictional characters, derogatory words and those that “take liberties with traditional spelling.”

Let’s hope these protectors of prose continue their quixotic quest until they rid the land of Junie B. and replace her with something more obedient, that draws the line at words such as “dumb” and “stupid,” and resists the unspeakable crime of having characters speak in the sometimes-jumbled language common to 6-year olds.

Perhaps The Big Book of Gerunds or Pig Iron Production in the Soviet Union, 1929-34 or Dick and Jane Attend a Book Burning will do wonders to stimulate a love of reading among elementary school-age students.

The whole idea is to get kids to pick up a book and enjoy the experience, so they can become better readers.

If you’ve got nothing better to do than complain about harmless children’s books, perhaps you should pick up another volume  from the American Library Association’s list of banned books: Fahrenheit 451.

35 thoughts on “The (long overdue) banning of Junie B. Jones

  1. Happy reading to those four precious girls!

    Is it un-PC to ask:

    Are you Mormon, Catholic, or Muslim to have this many darlings?

      • I can one-up you and then some: I’ve got five, and a step daughter! And it’s never a dull moment, especially with four daughters in high school (yes, there are a set of twins mixed in there). And, as I’m sure you know, I get an awful lot of comments: “You know how that happens, right?” “Let me guess, you wanted another boy” and, my favorite, “Boy, do I feel bad for you.”

        Actually, I feel bad for folks who stop at one or two, although I understand it if that’s what works for them. But my children have been a blessing from day one, not to mention more fun that a passel of puppies.

      • Awesome. Good for you. And God bless. 4 girls in high school sounds rough. 🙂 My three girls will all be teenagers together for a couple of years, but I’ll have a teenage girls for yeeeeaaaarrrrssss. Not looking forward to it.
        As to the comments, some people are just dumb, and I think deep down they feel a little bad that they didn’t have more themselves. Maybe. 🙂

      • My girls and I get along great. I love them and they know what to expect from me. There are occasional bumps in the road, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

        And I agree; I do think some folks are envious that perhaps they might have missed out on something by following the one-boy, one-girl thing and then stopping. I sometimes think about how much I would have missed without my three younger daughters. Life seems inconceivable without them, even if their brother and older sister probably wouldn’t mind once in awhile.

        Given that you have a sense of humor about life, you’ll get through your girls’ teenage years just fine. Prayer, however, does help.

      • Oh, yeah. Prayer will be my go to. And alcohol! Haha! Sometimes I’m thankful that I’m Catholic and so alcohol and caffeine are acceptable. Phew!
        My three girls are close in age and awesome friends. I love that. I just had a baby boy, while my youngest girl is 7. Opening a whole new world. Maybe I’ll have a 5th child, another boy, so this little guy can also experience a close sibling in age to play with. Even if a girl, it would be nice for them. But God only knows! This 4th was a surprise after not conceiving for so long.

      • Well, as I’ve told folks, 60 percent of my gang were “gifts” from above – completely unexpected. That’s how you get three girls in 11 months and four in 3.5 years. Alcohol is definitely an acceptable – and recommended – remedy. A joy of Catholicism, right?

      • That is really quick. When they’ve all grown out of the house I fear you’ll be lonely. :/ Also, that sounds like that was crazy difficult when they were all young. I’m glad you survived!

  2. I certainly don’t see why they need to be banned, and I do find some of the observations made in the books to be funny. However, I hate the fact that my 6 year old daughter likes these books. I understand that the grammar and spelling are intended to be true to the narrator, but I find it inappropriate for kids who are just learning how to read. It teaches/reinforces bad habits.

    • kids who are just learning how to read shouldn’t be reading these books anyways so if they are reading books this long then don’t hand them this book if that is the case these books are a great way to teach kids the wrong ways of grammer this book is a great learning and teaching tool

  3. You know, cbm, just maybe if your 6 year old continues to read and enjoy Junie B, she will
    come to the conclusion that although school
    teaches her lots of rules in order to function
    in this world acceptably… spunky Junie B teaches her
    how to find her ‘joy’ and to express her ‘oneness’
    …and maybe even, to one day nudge her Mommie into
    being a little looser and to do simple stupid stuff with her just for the sheer fun of it.

    Wowie, wow, wow!!!

    And…kudos to Barbara Park for getting under the skins of those, those, those ‘big stupid heads’!

  4. Pingback: Turning the page to Banned Books Week « The Cotton Boll Conspiracy

  5. Just read a JunieB book with my daughter (1st year reader). Junie is rude and throws tantrums…She also uses poor grammar and disrespects adults. I read this with my daughter but I used every opportunity as a teaching moment to tell her how not to act, speak, etc… Don’t think we’ll read another. Plenty of other books out there. And plenty of teaching moments as well…

    Not worth banning, though.

    • Yes, Junie does take a bit getting used to – certainly the grammar is a little tough on the ears – but I figure if kids like the stories and read them, it’s not a bad thing.

      Thanks for your comment.

  6. Junie B. books sparked a passion for reading in my daughter. When we read the books together, we would laugh and use Junie B’s antics as teachable moments. My daughter would laugh because she knew Junie’s behavior was often inapproriate, but it did not make her want to behave like Junie.

    • My kids, too, enjoyed the Junie B. Jones books. I’ve always believed that most kids are smart enough to know what’s appropriate and what’s not when reading books at that level. And if they don’t, it’s probably a reflection of the parenting they’ve received. Thanks for your note.

  7. I’ve always said I wish somebody scream for a ban on my blog; I’d get a kazillion, curious new subscribers overnight. (And could find a way to cash in big-time on the notoriety of the free blog to-boot.)

    • Boy, isn’t that the truth? You’d be the most famous blogger in Belize.

      And the best way for a government to ensure that a controversial author is read is to try and censor his or her works. Fails every time.

  8. I read those books, and look at me now. I am in honor’s classes and I’ve had several poems published in the literary magazine. Those sure did make me dumber.

  9. It is so sad that people have become so politically correct that they have banned a simple children’s book. What’s next, Good Night Moon for encouraging children to talk to inanimate objects? Wowie wow wow. What a bunch of dumb clucks.

  10. Thanks for replying! Actually, I stumbled across your blog when searching for an article on the banning of books for english class. This banning of books has given me a new soapbox to stand on. Thanks for helping me get fired up! I needed a little something to get me ready to defend our precious literature!

  11. I mean, it’s like these people are playground bullies, picking out the smallest, harmless kid (even though I know Junie B. can fight ’em off just fine) on the playground to beat up. Scary.

    • In the spectrum of politics, school board members tend to be some of the most tyrannical. Relatively speaking, they’re little scrutinized, believe they know what’s best for everyone’s children and many are looking to use their position on the school board to jump to higher office. This is a generalization, of course; some board members really do have the best interests of kids at heart. But for many, it’s a way to make themselves feel important and gain power.

      When I see some penny-ante school board looking to ban a children’s book, I know that’s a community that’s probably headed down the wrong path.

  12. When my girl were say, 8 and under I steered clear from tv and movies that had that kind of language coming from the heroes or protagonists, until they were older and had a firm grasp that hurtful language should be avoided. We never said dumb or stupid in our house -except of course Junie B! She was allowed, and we laughed about her antics, we too used them as teaching moments.

    As with other unruly, but charming characters that came into our lives after Junie B, I would just ask the girls on occasion, “while so-and-so is funny in a book movie or on tv, how would you feel if you actually knew them?” Often they would say something along the lines of- “they are fun to watch but they can be pretty naughty! I don’t know if I would want to be friends… maybe I could be their nice friend who helps them stay out of trouble!”

    I can understand a parent saying, “you know my kid is a monkey see monkey do type, I think we’ll read Magic Tree House instead I can’t imagine ban it. My kids got that it wasn’t appropriate to be like Junie B, but they could vicariously be naughty, loud and rude though her. What I always hoped they WOULD take from Junie B is to be their selves, be passionate, and be willing to make mistakes.

  13. i can’t believe this book was banned its supposed to use bad grammer thats the point shes a little kid come on people lets be logical this was my favorite book as a kid.

  14. Being married to a Catholic Montessori trained educator we both have a devout belief that the banning of any book, regardless of content, is a primary violation of the Right of Free Speech as delineated in the Constitution of the United States. It is not for any body, board, or self-proclaimed “person in charge of protecting childrens interests” to ban a book. The suppression of ideas of any type is fundamentally damaging the community of people as a whole. We need to have access to every possible idea in order to both educate and expand our knowledge to better enable us to make functional and adult decisions. With that in mind we believe that control of what a child reads is best left to the parent. If they object to a certain title, for whatever reason, as a teacher my spouse maintains an alternate list of equivalent reading (targeted towards a certain skill set generally) that the parent can peruse and choose from. She is adamant about the restrictions on even books like “Little Black Sambo” because the ban prevents exposure and thus limits the child’s ability to learn about certain subjects and he controversy surrounding them. But then we feel the same about banned early WB cartoons. Presented in a correct historical perspective they allow the child to understand a controversy rather than be kept ignorant of it…and they really are funny; but some of the reasons for banning them would be even funnier if one thinks about it a bit. Have our skins really grown so thin???

    • Sadly, *some* of our skins have indeed grown thin. The irony is that banning a book only serves to increase interest in it, particularly among younger individuals. If you want to get teens to do something, tell them they can’t, right?

      Banning cartoons and books that are obviously stereotypical only makes it look as if we’re trying to hide the past. Doing so makes it easier for apologists and deniers to claim such works never existed.

    • If you’re going to make a fool of yourself and attempt to ban a book, make it worthwhile: Fifty Shades of Grey is not appropriate for fourth grade students and certainly has little redeeming value as literature, but instead some go after classic works for who knows what convoluted reason. Basically, asking a library to ban a book is going to make you look like a Neanderthal. Better yet, keep tabs on your kids, educated yourself on what your reading, and talk with them about controversial topics, to ensure they understand all sides of an argument. In today’s world, a request to ban books is a sign of laziness and/or ignorance.

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