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Junie B. And Me Gots A Complicated Relationship

Late last fall, Maddie’s teacher
began reading a Junie B. Jones book aloud to her class. Maddie fell
a bit in love with the girl, and would enthusiastically come home
and tell me how great the book was. So when Christmas time rolled
around, I found a Christmas installation in the Junie B. series and
bought it for her as a surprise – I thought I’d read it
to Maddie at night and we’d love it together.

And then I read the book.

How do I dislike her? Let me count the

First there’s the fact that Junie B. is, well, annoying and
unkind and a bit of a bully – albeit usually an accidental
one. She teases less popular classmates, acts up behind the
teacher’s back, and is a frequent visitor to the
principal’s office. All unwittingly, of course: her charm is
supposed to lie in the fact that she’s just a rambunctious
kid who gosh almighty, just can’t contain herself but means
darn well! So perhaps other “rambunctious” kids who
frequent the principal’s office will like Junie B. because
they can relate to her; but as for Maddie, it would never occur to
her to rip a friend’s sweater just because the girl is
annoying her, and these things are treated as rather charming and
innocent hijinx. I don’t think so.

Second, Junie B.’s grammar is execrable. Really bad. Stinko.
As in, an immigrant with one year of English under her belt would
do better. Here’s a sample sentence: “I turned to
Herbert real quick and made a nasty face at him, and the teacher
never even catched me!”

What am I supposed to do with this?

When I was reading out loud to Maddie, I tried to clean up the
grammar a bit as I went, but Maddie was trying to follow along and
quickly grew suspicious when what she was looking at didn’t
match what I was saying. But I was able to get away with a bit, and
it was my own little act of sabotage (which, by the way, made me
feel unreasonably good.)

Then Maddie learned to read these books for herself.

Maddie’s reading has been steadily improving over the past
couple of months, and she moved away from “Biscuit”
books and began searching restlessly for something a bit harder.
Picking through her bookshelf one day, she came upon her Christmas
Junie B. book and started in. Several intense days later,
she’d finished it. And then read it again.

This past weekend, I told her we’d go to a book store and buy
a new chapter book for her to read. As we walked through a Target,
she picked up three (3!) Junie B. Jones books and said they were
her dream. Determined, I said “no” and we went to a
real book store.

Out of which we walked with two Junie B. books.

What can I say? These books get Maddie excited about reading. Like,
really excited. She reads in the car. She reads at school while she
waits to go inside in the morning. When we came home from the book
store, she curled up on a couch with a book and by the time she
went to bed that night, had read five chapters. Every SINGLE adult
we encounter learns that “I can read chapter books all by
myself! I am reading Junie B. Jones right now! I have THREE Junie
B. Jones books! I LOVE Junie B. Jones!”

I am happy to say that we also walked out with a few other chapter
books – books I THINK will be better written than Junie B.
but which I will definitely read cover-to-cover before pushing on
Maddie. I want her to fall in love with reading as much as I do
– just something written well!

Yesterday I took her to our weekly Starbucks time; she gets a
chocolate milk and a pound cake and we sit and snuggle together in
a big leather chair, sipping and chatting and having good family
time. As we got out of the car, Maddie hesitated and said,
“Can I bring in my Junie B. Jones book? I only have one
chapter to go in this book!” Who am I to say no to that?

Ten minutes later, I sat sipping my chai and watching my girl,
curled up in her big chair, drinking her chocolate milk and turning
the pages intently. She looked up at me and smiled. “This is
so awesome!”

And it is.


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