Sad news for people who grew up reading Junie B Jones stories (looking at you, 90s kids) – the beloved character is banned from many school reading lists across the country.
Counting 31 individual books, the Junie B series came in at number 71 on the Top 100 Banned Books list between 2000 and 2009. Her crime? Acting like a kindergartner, which she is for most of the series.
Author Barbara Park initially appreciated being on the banned books list with some of her favorite authors, but felt hurt by the “nasty” letters she got from readers who hated Junie B.
But why are Junie B Jones books banned anyway?
Junie B Jones and the unrealistic expectations of parents
Barbara Park’s series debuted in 1992 with Junie B Jones And The Stupid Smelly Bus, introducing kindergartner Junie B Jones who finds her first day of pre-school so overwhelming, and the school bus so scary and “full of meanies”, that when it’s time to go back home, she doesn’t.
“My name is Junie B. Jones,” reads the opening sentence. “The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all.”
The book was an instant hit with kids Junie’s age and even older.
For Park, meeting Junie B for the first time was just as exciting as for many readers. As she wrote, she told Publishers Weekly in 2012, “I knew she was a wild child, who — big surprise — had not yet mastered the Queen’s English.”
What was initially a two-three book project spanned the next two decades and saw a few generations grow up with Junie B. In 2001, Park graduated Junie from a perpetual kindergartner to the first grade with Junie B., First Grader (at Last!).
The final book of the series (Junie B, First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff)) appeared in 2012, just one year before Park passed away from ovarian cancer.
Why are Junie B Jones books banned?
Throughout the series, “almost six-year-old” Junie B is far from a model child. She’s still learning proper grammar and spelling, so she uses the wrong words a lot, like “bestest” and “shaked”, and she has a habit of calling things “stupid” or “dumb”.
Along with not minding her language, she can sometimes be loud and mischievous with a knack for getting herself into trouble. She spends the majority of the series learning what the right thing is and how to do it – often going about it the hard way.
Moreover, Junie is fidgety and has trouble keeping her reactions in check when other kids bug her. However, with these (perfectly normal if slightly annoying) qualities, Junie B is also authentic, brave, funny, and genuinely trying her best.
Late author Barbara Park likens her character to other childhood favorites like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby. “I think she has that same sense of getting into trouble. It’s an innocent sense of trouble,” Park said.
Censors disagree. Reasons why Junie B Jones books are banned include the character’s “mouthiness”, “bad spelling and grammar” and the sense that the books teach “poor social values”. Overall, critics say, Junie B is “not a good role model”.
Barbara Park on Junie books being banned
The first negative letter she received, the late author once told the New York Times, was from “a grandmother from Minnesota who was annoyed that Junie B. had acted out and that she wasn’t using the Queen’s English.”
A tall order for a kindergartner, as Junie B was for most of the books’ run.
“People act as if I’m teaching children how to blow up cats,” Park said in Junie B’s defense. “The worst thing she does is maybe call someone stupid, but that’s just her being a 5-year-old. You’d hear worse than that walking across any playground! And when she acts out, kids who are reading it know that she’s doing something wrong.”
While she was initially delighted to be in the company of literary greats like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, Junie B’s spot on the banned books list quickly became a nightmare for Park.
“What I don’t understand is the vitriol and just the nastiness,” she said of the vicious hate mail coming in from Junie B critics. “You have no idea some of the letters I’ve gotten. The level of anger and meanness – it’s almost like you get to slap me around and not put a return address on it.”