If I were choosing someone for the Supreme Court, here’s another litmus test I might throw in there: How do you feel about Junie B. Jones? Because I figured out recently that I often use this to judge people. “Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the death penalty. Now where do you stand on Junie B?” I have friends who never embraced Junie B the way I did. Honest, I do. I have friends who think she’s too smart-mouthed or else they struggle with the grammar or … something. (I’m not sure I can tell you what the something is, because after a point, we agree not to discuss it.)
Since Barbara Park’s death this weekend, I’ve been thinking about how much her books have made our family laugh, as in this excerpt from Junie B. First Grader: Dumb Bunny:
Lucille stood up and fluffed herself.
“Well — since the Easter Bunny and I are the same religion — I’m going to wear a fancy Easter dress, Shirley,” she said.
Shirley though for a minute. Then she nodded.
“Hmm. Then I guess I will wear a fancy Jewish dress,” she said.
Lennie’s eyes lighted up.
“Really, Shirley? You mean we have our own clothing line?” he asked.
“Then I think I will wear some fancy Jewish pants,” he said.
Note: that was Book 27 — 27 — and the prose was still incredibly fresh. Not to mention that she made an Easter-themed book perfectly appropriate and relevant for our Jewish family.
It’s been a few years since my daughter has actively read her JBJ books. They’ve moved from her room to the downstairs bookcase, replaced by Dork Diaries and Percy Jackson and Wimpy Kid. Still: there’s a girl in her class named Grace, who has never been mentioned in our house without the addition of the word “that.” When my daughter comes out of the shower, we still try to make sure she has smoothy hair. Like Lucille, we sometimes fluff ourselves.
“She will live on through her writing.”
I’ve seen that phrase a dozen times since learning about Barbara Park’s death. I’m not sure how much comfort it is for her family and friends, whose hurt cannot be soothed with words. But as a fan, I am finding comfort in all that Barbara achieved, and in all that she taught me, through her writing, about what voice should be. I will always be grateful to her for the joy she gave our family, and for creating Junie B. Jones, one of the most alive characters I know.