Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus (Junie B. Jones, No. 1)
By Barbara Park, Illustrated by Denise Brunkus
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers; 1ST edition (July 28, 1992) Available in: Kindle, paperback, hardback, audiocassette, most elementary and public libraries
At the time of this review, there were 27 Junie B. books available. But that’s too much too chew on at once. So this review is only about book #1.
She’s an original!
The first in this classic, best-selling series introduces us to Junie Beatrice Jones—that’s Junie B. to you. She’s a precocious child who says it like she sees it: and often, what she says points out that adults complicate things. A lot.
Like when her mother and teacher tell her she will ride the bus. We get deep into the book before Junie B.’s frustration reaches hollering levels because no one has bothered to tell her where she will ride the bus.
These little epiphanies of how we use words and descriptions and expect our kids to know what we’re talking about provide a lot of the humor of the book. The rest of the comedy comes from her exuberant personality and penchant for getting into trouble. Like hiding in the supply closet. And calling 9-1-1 because the bathroom door is locked.
When I was first introduced to that rascal Junie B., my kids were early elementary age. We found the character and book refreshing because of the humor, recognizable situations and easy reading that still moved into the novel form. She tackles fear, new friends, new rules and interesting clothing choices with straight-on seriousness and wit.
So it was a little bit of a shock to revisit the incorrigible Junie B. almost two decades later. On the plus side, the writing is remarkable for something so simple. Short, snappy sentences. Good character development. Clear plot that isn’t too predictable. True drama.
But looking through the lens of 2013, it pains me to say Junie B. has some age issues: as in, is she really holding up over time? In so many ways she’s still such a unique character, I’d love to say yes. But so much of what she says and does is, in today’s world, either dated or politically incorrect.
She talks about how she can beat up one kid. She describes the nurse with white shoes and clothes (when was the last time you saw that other than on a TCM movie?). She longs for a backpack (what kid doesn’t at least have a hand-me-down backpack these days?). She describes the first day of school when Mrs., the teacher, tells kids to pick a chair (what school doesn’t assign seating?). And she disobeys constantly, is disrespectful and is left alone to run through the school by herself for a couple of hours. Hard to imagine this happening today.
And that’s where it gets sticky. Is she just a precocious imp that we’ve loved for years and thus will continue to love? Or is she an annoying bad example? Do our young readers today get Junie B.? Or are they left wondering, who is this out of control elf who uses baby talk and says things like “travel tissue?”
What do you say teachers and parents? Use the comment below and let’s chat….