Junie B. in the news

I do like the New York Times, but I often wonder where their parenting/education reporters live. They seem to be in a time warp, discovering issues like “the dark side of mothering,” “helicopter parents,” and preschool admission stress sometime after they’ve died out as the hot topics at the playlots in my neighborhood. Maybe the Times reporters are just younger than me, or have kids younger than mine?

In any case, I was amused to see that the Times has discovered the Junie B. controversy.

This is their summation of the issue:

Their disagreement is a pint-size version of the lingering education battle between advocates of phonics, who believe children should be taught proper spelling and grammar from the outset, and those who favor whole language, a literacy method that accepts misspellings and other errors as long as children are engaged in reading and writing.

They also note that Junie B. is quite the troublemaker.

It was an interesting read, since I’ve been a vocal Anti-Junie myself, though never to the point of suggesting that the books be removed from the library. (I’ve also given away any copies we’ve ended up with rather than toss them, as one parent in the article does.)

We came across Junie B. at a challenging time — Violet was really struggling to fit in at school, and had already told me a few times in preschool in Kindergarten that she wished she didn’t know how to read, so she wouldn’t be different from the other kids. When Violet started in with making regular grammar and spelling mistakes on purpose at school — not just from time to time, but all the time — I put the kibosh on Junie B. all together. (It had never been a staple in our house anyway, although we all really liked the Junie B. diary Violet got from her grandparents.)

Junie B. is not just a first grader, like the kid at the next desk, she’s the first grader. As with most things put into print, she takes on a more authoritative status, like a printed reference manual for typical 6-year-old behavior. For an atypical 6-year-old constantly on the lookout for clues to the great puzzle of “fitting in”—like poor Violet told me she was—Junie B. seems like the perfect role model. I can’t speak for other families, but for our family Junie B. was a particularly vivid example of why first grade—which I had hoped would be so wonderful—turned out to be so toxic for my PG girl.

So yes, I dislike the bad grammar and the bad behavior. My kid, like lots of kids, absorbs books whole, swallows them up, and then talks and acts like she lives inside them. (Even when Violet is not using her British accent—of which she is quite proud—she comfortably tosses out many of her Britishisms from Harry Potter and other readings.) But I’ve never worried about Dobby or Hagrid being a bad influence on her language, and I worry only slightly about Harry and co. encouraging her love of sneaking and general mischief.

My main problem with Junie B. is summed up by what the author says about Junie’s bad language and behavior:

That’s just her being a 5-year-old.

Argh! Can you hear it ringing in my ears? Can you tell I still get upset about it? “Just let her be a child.” “Are you trying to get her into college by 10?” “Children all even out by 3rd grade.” “Children tell parents what they think they want to hear.”

“Just being” a child—believe me, keeping Junie B. out of the house was a part of the effort to let Violet “just be” Violet.



Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, In the News

10 responses to “Junie B. in the news

  1. I passionately LOATHE Junie B Jones so won’t get started here on my regular diatribe about it. I’ll just say very calmly, I agree with you.

  2. I’m really really surprised to hear you say all this. I mean, I don’t know these books from Adam, but … yeah, I guess if it’s All your kids read, they’d be in trouble, but it’s not, not by a long shot. If your kid is upset bec. others can’t read like she can … she’s got a Lifetime of being upset to look forward to, I guess. Look, I said something about Math to my mom when I was a kid, something like “other kids say that it’s hard, but it isn’t hard. But I don’t think they’d lie. Why would they lie?” And I learned that I was better at math than most kids. That didn’t make me want to suck at math (though it definitely made me have a low profile about my above-averageness). In short, I got over it. Maybe I was only “VG” or “MG” or “G,” who knows?

    For me … unless the book was actively teaching kids to be unkind, or putting down a specific race or something, I can’t imagine Not letting Sahra read a book she wanted to read. Now if she didn’t like it / was depressed by it, then out it would go. I loved the comment in the Times article where the woman said she has never heard her kid say “Have you any wool?” even thought it’s a phrase in a very common nursery rhyme, e.g. kids can discern between what’s going on in book world and what Should go in Real World. So … not every piece of reading has to reflect a perfect worldview – the very idea of such a worldview is a pipe dream anyway.

    Sahra knows the difference between good and bad grammar because of the way her parents speak, not because of books. Though maybe not “PG,” she also gets exceedingly absorbed in books and can’t stop talking about them and acts them out etc. Most bright young kids who can read do this. It’s not unusual.

    That said, I’ve Not read these books, and could very well hate them. I just have a hard time imagining Forbidding my child from reading them.

    “Poor Violet” made me laff because she’s a super-peripheral character on the Simpsons who looks like an extra from “Oliver Twist” and is always coughing / dying of consumption. Much funnier than I’m making it sound.


  3. We never did the Junie B Jones thing. I was very influenced by Charlotte Mason when Z was just a toddler and Junie B seemed to define “twaddle.”

    We definitely have the responsibility to “forbid” things in our children’s lives. Books, cartoons, movies, purchases, etc. It is not like every five year old has a God given right to read and watch and do whatever they want. Being a good parent often means guiding but sometimes it means saying “this thing has a very negative influence on your life so we are going to do without it.”

    For example there are very few shows I let Z watch. Mainly I feel that we don’t have time to watch everything so we need choose and if we are going to choose (we have a tivo so we can record things and watch them when we want) then we should choose what is best considering a matrix of variables including what I know about my daughter and how the show will effect her.

    I do the same thing with books.

    I can see that what is “best” for us might be totally unacceptable for someone else. Z was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer at three. She started reading HP at four. I am okay with Z reading stuff that is sad, dark and sometimes violent even though she is young. That kind of stuff really interests her and doesn’t affect her negatively. But there are a lot of seemingly benign children’s books that would be a bad influence on her.

    Also I totally know what you mean about how some kids “absorb” books. I think it has to do with Dabrowski’s Theory of Overexcitabilities. Very gifted kids (esp PG kids) see and understand so much and can also be very strongly effected and influenced. Things don’t go in one ear and out the other but go straight to their hearts. Z actually cries at Spongebob! I used to feel the same way watching Laverne and Shirley. It was not just funny to me. I took it to heart and felt about it like I would if it really happened. And it wasn’t that I didn’t understand it was fake. It just effects me a great deal. Z is like that and it sounds like Violet is too.

    I certainly agree with you removing that book from her reading list.

  4. eggmaster


    “I got over it.” Uh…yeah…right…

    Come on, the REAL Rex Parker would never say something like that. What have you done with his body?

  5. First, “Buffy?” WTF?! Our brilliant child literally Does Not Watch TV and Does Not Care. She enjoys DVDs. Commercial TV of any kind is clearly toxic to very young kids (3 yrs old!? Again, I say, WTF?).

    Second, “eggmaster,” you want to know where the REAL Rex Parker is … damn, if I didn’t know and really like your mom, I would make a “your mom” joke here, e.g. “Why don’t you ask your mom?”

    I *did* “get over” being better than most other people at math; it’s the being pale, gangly, awkward, nerdy, shy, unmechanical, and late-to-puberty that I never quite got over…

    Lastly, I’m pretty sure avg to dumb kids can be sensitive and not understand that “Laverne and Shirley” is a comedy.


  6. shaunms

    I wasn’t going to comment, but this seems to be getting bizarrely negative for a post about how we made a decision to keep a book (a book you, Rex, have never read) away from our kid because of her extremely personal response — and my emotional response as well.

    What the original post and later comments were never about was other people and their kids. I don’t think anyone would suggest that your sensitivity to your experience in school as compared to my kid’s experience has any bearing on your level of giftedness.

    Likewise, I don’t think anyone has said anything to suggest that giftedness is a prerequisite to sensitivity. The point was, as I read it, that extreme sensitivity does seem to accompany giftedness, and that is why Janedeau and I, among others, have made choices about reading material and other media that sometimes make people say, WTF?

    This is a blog about homeschool and gifted education, so I make no apologies for the fact that I use giftedness as a rubric to make sense of my kid’s behavior. (That’s a rubric, not the rubric, but again, it is a major topic of the blog.) From what I can tell, that’s the issue here (since it’s obviously not the book): using giftedness as a reason for doing something or as an explanation of a particular behavior or response.

    I take exception to the implication that a reference to giftedness in talking about my kid’s education or my parenting is necessarily a tacit statement about what other kids/people are lacking or what they ought to be doing. We struggle enough with our own kids to try to make blanket statements about what’s OK or unacceptable for everyone else’s.

    Maybe I don’t have the writing skills to evoke the total misery of our family in trying to make school work for Violet. Mom, dad, and child all cried on several occasions and hundreds of dollars were spent on finding people to help (not to mention paying babysitters for frequent trips to the school), among other things. In the midst of all that, I did not have time to give a single thought to how our turn to the gifted community for support would reflect on either average to dumb people or brilliant people who don’t think about giftedness the same way we do. Nonetheless, my experience is that homeschooling and talking about giftedness go right up there with being an at-home parent, breastfeeding, family bed, and vegetarianism as lifestyles that seem to invite the suspicion that the practitioner is looking down at the rest of the great unwashed.

    It’s why I blog. It’s not foolproof, but it seems to increase the likelihood that I’ll find other people dealing with similar concerns, and it eliminates the problems caused by venting to friends who don’t really want to hear it. Except when your friends read your blog. 😉

  7. Rex

    You are welcome to check out my blog. http://graysacademy.blogspot.com/

    Did you watch Buffy? It is an amazing show. My daughter got a lot out of it.

    I know that kind of show isn’t for everybody but it was very well written, clever, and asked thought provoking questions about morals and ethics. The vampire thing was just a play on the genre but the show was more about high school and giftedness. The writer is clearly gifted and much of the conflict was about a person “Buffy” with a gift that makes her different and somewhat isolated and how she deals with that. Another of the main characters was highly gifted.

    I highly recommend the show to anyone but especially for gifted young people, when they are ready which might not be when they are three.

    Also a television show (that we watched on DVD) is not intrinsically worse then any movie on DVD.

  8. To be fair, my “WTF” comment was about “Buffy,” not reading choices.

    As an extremely sensitive kid myself, I wish to God (seriously) that I had not been protected (and protected myself, later) from so many *possibly* disturbing experiences. It is No Way To Live As An Adult. That is this former sensitive child’s take on sensitivity.

    I didn’t mean to touch a nerve. You know I love you. I just wonder sometimes if things attributed to PG are really *so* PG. As you know, I think having my exceptionality, my smartness, my “the doctor had never seen a three-year-old test so high on that intelligence test,” etc., drilled into my head from a very early age did me more harm than good. And I *was* that kid you describe with Sophie and math, the kid who just did it and couldn’t exactly tell you how / why ’cause it just happened in my head and why can’t you all do it too?

    To be honest, I always looked down on / feared “regular” kids. Neither attitude was good, but both lasted, in some residual form, well into adulthood.

    This is more about me than you need to know.


    ps jane d’oh, I was hyperbolically over-reacting to the “Buffy” thing. And you are right that watching a TV show on DVD is no different than watching a movie.

  9. shaunms

    But see — and this is where I’ll let it rest — this is why we do the things we do. To my mind, while our daughter is young (and she is really very young) one benefit of doing homeschool is that we keep from having that exceptionality shoved in her face every day. I’d like her to build up a positive, realistic self-image — not as a smart person, but as a good, worthwhile person who is allowed to be herself — before throwing her to the wolves. When you’re 3, 4, 5 and already wondering what’s wrong with you, you head off to the world with a significant disadvantage.

    I love you too, you big goober.

  10. Wolves are wolves are wolves. They might be even more unbearable later because of unfamiliarity.

    But maybe not. We’re keeping S. out of public school til middle school (the wolfiest time), though more on curriculum grounds (i.e. hippie school is so much cooler / smaller). On social grounds, she’s outta there in another four years – time to meet the great unwashed, kid (kidding!). Karate + being stunningly beautiful should help with wolf tolerance / integration, but god only knows how much.


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