Thursday, July 26, 2007

Junie B. Jones: Bad verb! Bad, bad verb!

I guess the whole "perfect kid" obsession made this inevitable: Today's NYT has a long piece on the children's books about a girl named Junie B. Jones, by Barbara Park. Worse than her playing with scissors (a scissor? a scissors?) and head-butting other kids, Junie B. apparently leaves -ly off of her adverbs, says runned and funnest, and calls zucchini Sue Keeney (an anthropomorphizing eggcorn, mentioned as "an odd little-girlism").

For this, the author has made the American Library Association's 10 Most Frequently Challenged Authors" list. Beyond being banned, her work gets called stuff like "loathsome" and "the mental equivalent of toxic waste." One outraged parent says: “No wonder we have declining literacy and writing proficiency rates in this country!” The article says of the author:
the negative responses sting, and she’s loath to talk about them. …

“I’ve stopped reading about my books on the Internet because it’s too hurtful,” she said. “People act as if I’m teaching children how to blow up cats."
You can't be surprised by this, but can people actually believe that this is responsible for declining literacy? More importantly, will this "girla non grata" be tried as an adult in Word Court?

Update, 10:05 am: Mark Liberman at Language Log (here) has explored another of the oddities in this piece that I didn't mention, the notion that phonics plays some role here. I should have mentioned that the article is filled with pretty odd views at almost every turn ("weird reactions to the book" was what I had in a spew draft of the post, actually).

And while you're over at LL, do have a look at Ben Zimmer's post on peevology … .

10 comments:

The Ridger, FCD said...

O fer... Honestly. Do people ever actually listen to kids? Somehow they mostly - and I'm sure Junie B. will - grow up to say "ran". And let us not forget Shakespeare, who said "the most unkindest cut of all" - probably about peevologists.

The word is "gnowzl", which is the sound I make when I read something like this, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I think my daughter has read every one of these books, some more than once and it hasn't hurt her literacy any. In fact, this series has figured largely in her ability to read above grade level. The author is right in blowing off the language mavens.

Mr. Verb said...

The author makes pretty clear that she's treating Junie B. as somebody who'll grow up to say 'ran'. Maybe some day I'll be settled enough to say on 'gnowzl' when I read stuff like this.

As I think more about this, I wonder about this kind of obsession with keeping kids hermetically sealed. Variation is a healthy part of language -- the way little kids talk, regional variants, non-native varieties, etc. If you grow up in a bubble, I'd want that in there.

Anonymous said...

Adults with too much (misguided) time on their hands ('Don't trust anyone over 30', right?). Real issues of local school funding and ensuring delivery of material to each child's level (inclusion) could be more beneficial overall than a preoccupation with preventing children from reading the language they hear.

Mr. Verb said...

All I can say to that is: YES!

Dr. Tangent said...

OMG I know this is a little tangential but I actually knew someone named Sue Keeney when I was in 7th grade and in fact we did tease her by calling her "zucchini"... Which just goes to prove that, um (trying to make my comment relevant), um, people who make jokes about names and vegetables can grow up to be completely literate and even get PhDs.

Mr. Verb said...

Great story. OK, kids, you can go back to joking about your veggies!

The Ridger, FCD said...

Having read the article, I find it very sad that the one little girl apparently was completely incapable of reading this book. "“but I think it took me like a month to read one book because there were so many misspelled words that I didn’t understand, and we had to talk about every little thing,” she is quoted as saying.

Her education - if not her parents - has left her crippled. But surely the answer to that is not to even further restrict what she is exposed to!

Anonymous said...

im 15 an doing a report on censorship in schools with my main topic being junie b. its sad that ppl r trying to get reid of this book. i loved reading them as a child and they had no affect on my deolpment. futher more im an honor student who gets straingt A's.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks, Anon. It is sad. And those are the same folks who are bent out of shape about kids spelling anything with texting conventions!