“My name is Junie B. Jones. The B stands for Beatrice. Except I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all.”
The first 17 books in Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series open with this thought from five-year-old Junie.
These were the words that ignited my love for reading, and I would be remiss not to pay tribute to those words in honor of Park, who died last week at the age of 66 after a long fight with ovarian cancer.
In total, Park wrote 30 books, illustrated by Denise Brunkus, about Junie B. Jones since 1992. The series has sold more than 55 million copies in North America, according to the publisher, Random House.
The series, though popular with young readers, were not always favored by critics. Some said Junie B. Jones was a bad influence on Park’s readers because of her language and rudeness.
I say those critics are meanies with big fat mouths. Words I learned from Junie. In all her audacity, the root of her disobedience was a predisposition for speaking her mind. Junie’s outspokenness didn’t teach young readers to disregard authority or use foul language, it taught readers the importance of being your own advocate.
When I read about her latest adventures in “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus,” or “Junie B. Jones and Some Sneeky Peeky Spying,” I was listening to my friend recount her day. Junie made me laugh, and she made me feel brave. She spoke to the opinionated, bold girl inside of me that was too afraid to surface.
Lesson Learned: Junie’s lessons laid dormant for many years after I retired my collection of her stories to the basement storage room, but as I have gotten older, I find myself becoming more and more comfortable with standing up for myself, making my own decisions and speaking my mind. Each time I use my voice with the confidence to say what I need to say, I think of Junie and the first nudge she gave me to let me know it’s OK to be bold.
I thought about digging out my Junie collection from the basement for reference purposes, but I’m afraid if I did, my memory of Junie and the gifts she gave me will be distorted. Maybe I would open a book and find only a silly story of a five-year-old know-it-all. Maybe I wouldn’t.
To take that chance, however, would be risking the loss of memories that helped shape me into who I am today.
Junie, or Park, and I have the perfect bond. Our relationship began and ended with a smile. More importantly, though, our relationship persists with not only the memory of a smile, but a reminder to always be bold.