I texted Ms. X this afternoon.
“Is there an Easter Junie B.?”
She shot back, “Yes. Junie B. First Grader Dumb Bunny!”
Then she called to say she’d seen it at Target. I didn’t find it there, but they had it at Barnes and Noble. As I was checking out, the young saleswoman commented on my other purchase, “A Birthday for Frances.”
“Is that the one with the blue and white tea set?” she asked.
“Oh no, that’s `A Bargain for Frances,'” I replied automatically.
Frances is my all-time favorite, a 1960s (or so) era hedgehog (whoops! badger!) with a mom and a dad and a little brother, and if you’ve never read Russell Hoban’s books about her, you must run out and get them immediately, regardless of the ages of your kids or whether you have kids at all. I’m quite sure I’ve already waxed dreamily here about “Bread and Jam for Frances,” which is about school lunch.
Frances is most definitely a badger in a party hat. Love her love her love her.
I love Junie B., too, but I have to admit that the relationship’s more complicated. “Yeah,” the saleswoman said after we’d shared our mutual affection for Frances, her voice dropping to a stage whisper. “Her grammar’s really bad.”
It is. A lot of people don’t like the Junie B. Jones chapter books because the main character’s a bit of a brat, but what drives me nuts about her is definitely her grammar. She uses “ain’t” — and worse.
I’d tell you the rules she breaks, but here’s a true confession: I’m a newspaper editor who spends her days (and nights) fixing grammatical errors, but I can’t tell you the rules my writers are breaking.
That’s an embarrassing admission. I know I’m supposed to be able to identify a dangling participle and diagram a sentence, but to be honest, I wasn’t paying attention that month in seventh grade English. Thanks to my maternal grandmother’s good word sense and the desire to pick a paragraph clean the way a mama monkey picks nits off her babies, I can make your copy look pretty good.
I’m pretty sure that’s my one and only marketable skill, by the way. And I’m not going to tell you here that I never make mistakes — grammatical or otherwise — in this blog and elsewhere. But I don’t use crappy English on purpose, particularly not around young children, and that’s exactly my problem with Junie B.
She talks like a kindergartener. Or so I’m told.
Ms. X. adores Junie B. As soon as the spring semester starts, she stops reading picture books to her class each day after lunch and starts reading Junie B. Jones books.
Annabelle fell hard for Junie B. two years ago in Ms. X’s kindergarten. I’d never heard of her. (As I’ve learned, there are now more than two dozen in the Junie B. series — they’re wildly successful. The first was published in 1992. Thanks, Wikipedia!)
I did some asking around and the consensus among smart kid experts was, “Not to worry. The kids get that it’s a character speaking. The most important thing is that they love Junie B. and they love her books and this will instill a lifelong love of reading.”
(I wanted to ask the author, Barbara Park, about it, too. Turns out she lives here in metropolitan Phoenix, and I thought she’d make a good profile subject for my paper. Also turns out she’s a recluse. I stalked her at a rare public appearance and left her a package with a heartfelt letter and examples of my work, but I never heard back. Darn. I love recluses almost as much as I love hoarders. But that’s a different blog post.)
Annabelle already loved books, but I figured another reason to love them wouldn’t hurt, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard her say “ain’t,” so no harm done. When I read the books aloud to her, I do correct the grammar as I go. I can’t help myself. But she’s been reading them on her own for years, now.
So I didn’t think much of it when, the first week after Christmas vacation, Sophie came home and dug around in Annabelle’s room and emerged with a pile of Junie B. books. Now it’s early April and she’s downright obsessed. She can’t read the books, per se, but she carries them around and turns the pages (licking her finger first, just like Ms. X) and tells stories. She won’t get in the car without one. It’s sweet.
And harmless, right? Right?
It wasn’t til I was walking out of Barnes and Noble with my Easter-themed Junie B. Jones and thinking how clever I was to come up with such a cute idea for Sophie’s basket that it suddenly dawned on me.
Sophie’s not like Annabelle. She’s speaking wonderfully, amazing all her therapists and doing so well for a kid with Down syndrome, but the truth is that her grammar is terrible. In fact, in a list of goals the speech therapist sent me last week, the two main focuses are grammar and learning how to chew gum. (So the Easter bunny’s going to leave some Orbit, too.)
Now I don’t know what to do. I guess I better email the speech therapist and ask her if Sophie’s allowed Junie B. I’m already feeling sorry for myself because we spent a hunk of the girls’ day off yesterday picking up Sophie’s new orthotics. Despite promises from the physical therapist, the new ones look a lot like the old ones and the guy who fitted her for them told me to make sure to get her some sturdy new shoes to wear with them.
So Sophie will be wearing dorky sneakers and reading straight-laced kid fiction. It’s not fair.
The Easter Bunny just might have to be a little naughty.