It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young boy pining after a young girl will be a big meanie about it. (Caveat: Sometimes older boys pine for older girls in a similarly silly fashion.) The afternoon kindergarten class in Room 9 is about to have a Valentine’s Day party, and Jim has a mushy gushy Valentine for Junie B.
Barbara Park, author of all 27 Junie B. Jones books, wrote, “No doubt about it…Valentine’s Day was always my favorite party of the school year.” The series was published from 1992 to 2013, written by Park and illustrated by Denise Brunkus, and I own every single book.
There are some grownups who don’t care for Junie B.’s poor grammar, especially when she says things like “funnest” and “thinked” and “Valentimes” with an m, but it never bothered our family.
It does bother Junie B.’s best friend, Grace.
Stop saying valentime, Junie B.,” she said. “You keep on saying valentime with an m sound. And you are supposed to say valentine with an n sound.”
I did a frown back at her.
“Who said so?” I asked.
“I said so,” said that Grace. “Didn’t you hear my voice? I just got finished telling you it has an n in it. The word is valentine.”
I did a huffy breath at that girl.
“You are not the boss of my words, Grace,” I said. “This is a freed country. And if I want to say valentime, I can. And I will not even go to jail.”
Soon after this tiff, the girls say “a ‘pology” and do a victory skip. Order is restored.
Until Room 9 finds out about the Valentine’s Day party, and pandemonium ensues as they shout suggestions their poor teacher never considered having to say no to. Like no to ballroom dancing, no to wild animals, and no to chainsaw juggling.
I could not be a kindergarten teacher, probably. I lack the classroom management skills to deal with that kind of enthusiasm, that’s why. But it’s exactly what I love about Park’s stories.
In ye olden days of early children’s books, young protagonists were either wholly bad or sickeningly good. Good children were rewarded and bad children were punished, often horrifically. But Junie B. and her friends are beyond bad or good — they are simply odd, like kids often are. They argue about whether the ability to wiggle one’s ears makes a person attractive. They try to wink and it looks like they are hurting themselves. They are mean to people they really, really like.
Barbara Park said, “There are those who believe that the value of a children’s book can be measured only in terms of the moral lessons it tries to impose or the perfect role models it offers. Personally, I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. In fact, I happen to think that’s huge.”
While preparing this post, I read parts of the story aloud to my husband. He not only smiled but also laughed. That’s why we own this series: laughter has value — huge value.
When Jim is discovered to be the sender of the mushy gushy Valentine, he begs Junie B. not to tell anyone because then Room 9 will never be the same. Junie B. asks why things would change.
Because it will be dull and boring, that’s why,” he said. “Because if you and I like each other, then I won’t tease you anymore. And if I don’t tease you, then you won’t tease me back. And that means you won’t shout silly, funny stuff at me that makes people laugh.”
He rocked back and forth on his feet very bashful.
“You make Room Nine sparky,” he said kind of quiet.
That may be the best compliment ever given. It sparks something in Junie B. — a literal game of poking and making spark noises: “Zzzzt! Zzzzt!” Ah, true love! Sometime it looks like two kids chasing and zzzt-ing and keeping secrets. And of course, winking.
Wink, wink, Jim,” I said. “Wink, wink, wink.”
And guess what?
Jim pointed his eyeball right back at me. And he winked very perfect.”
The next Children’s Book Club will meet Friday, March 13. We’ll read The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams.
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“Megan Willome has captured the essence of crow in this delightful children’s collection. Not only do the poems introduce the reader to the unusual habits and nature of this bird, but also different forms of poetry as well.”
—Michelle Ortega, poet and children’s speech pathologist