It seemed to happen overnight. My daughter entered kindergarten and suddenly every little girl that I came across between the ages of 5 and 8 was into Junie B. Jones books. I was thrilled when my daughter brought one home from school. The move to reading actual chapter books and having a need to use a bookmark was pretty exciting for us both. Near the end of the first book, my excitement started to wane. By the end of the second book, I was (perhaps irrationally) pissed off. We didn’t make it through the third book because I stopped reading it and chucked it at the wall. I just couldn’t take any more of the bad grammar and the silly baby talk. I found myself starting to loathe Junie B., a precocious kid without the other redeeming qualities that are often found in precocious children–wit, charm, an uncanny insight into the adult psyche. The cloying precociousness, the cliched baby talk and speech patterns and the saccharine-cute mispronunciations seemed included for the amusement of parents. “Oh, that darn Junie, what a little stinker!” But it’s really not that cute, and perhaps not that beneficial for kids who are at stage in their learning where they are just getting a handle on on grammar, figuring out the mysteries of spelling, and perhaps just overcoming their own mispronunciations.
I’m all for a little light reading. I gorged myself on all 3 million Sweet Valley High Books and stayed up nights surreptitiously reading the sublimely trashy V.C. Andrews books. But that was after years of reading authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary (who created a much more sympathetic precocious child in Ramona), and Madeline L’Engle. It was only after reading books like Island of the Blue Dolphin and Julie of the Wolves that really made me think and provided the backdrop for hours of made-up wilderness games. And after reading series books that I still think about 30 years later like Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, and The Boxcar Children.
I get the argument: kids like Junie B. Jones books and if they get kids reading and interested in books, well how bad can they really be? But aren’t there better books to make new readers love reading? I’m not opposed to a bit of kid smut, but should we start there? Should we and our schools really be leading with Junie B. Jones? With so many great books out there, I think we can do better.
I’d love to hear some great series books that you’ve found. My daughter just finished reading and really enjoyed Cynthia Rylant’s series The Cobble Street Cousins about three adventurous and inventive little girls who live with their Aunt Lucy.