Galley Girl Catches Up With Barbara Park

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The irrepressible Junie B. Jones, America's most famous first grader, has been on the New York Times children's bestsellers list for more than a year. Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May), Barbara Park's hilarious new book, is the 25th in the Junie B. series. The plot: It's the week before winter break, and Room One is atwitter with the holiday spirit. But May, the class tattletale, is driving Junie B. crazy with her snooping. As usual, the heroine is in such a hurry to talk that she makes grammatical mistakes, like "stoled" and "bestest." Galley Girl made her own grammatical errors during breakfast with Park, 58, as the author passed through Manhattan on her whirlwind book tour:

Galley Girl: This is your first book tour in 10 years. How come?

Barbara Park Barbara Park

Barbara Park: I'm so lazy as far as liking to get up, go to the office in my pajamas, get dressed about noon. And I hate flying. So I have this really laid-back, good lifestyle, and it's hard to nudge me out of it.

GG: You're known for your distinctive word use in these books. How would you describe your writing style?

BP: What I try really hard to do is be five in my head, to just absolutely go to this very innocent level. I like to think that Junie B. looks at the world—and this isn't a negative comment on her—from the lowest common denominator. It's not all gray to her; it's all black and white. I think the five- and six-year-old mind-set is very much like that. You just know things very clearly, that as you grow up, get murky. I try to write her in really simplistic, very innocent terms. In that regard, she gets in trouble. She doesn't have a great command of the language yet; she doesn't speak the Queen's English, which I think would be ridiculous for a five-year-old. I just have fun. I try to make myself laugh.

GG: Tell me about the people who have complained about the grammar Junie B. uses.

BP: They're a very, very vocal minority. The numbers of people that I hear from are so small, but the letters are incredibly mean. I'm "dumbing down the country." They really can't insult you enough. I guess there's a lot I don't understand about it. I don't think that any of those people would say, "Don't play with little Sarah next door; she's five, and she doesn't have her verb tenses down yet. No, no, no; wait until her grammar starts improving." But for some reason, if you put that same little girl in a book in first person, there are a certain segment of people who think that literature and fictional literature must be instructional. They liken it to a book of grammar. That's not what it is. This is the voice of a five-year-old that is entirely fictional, and just written for the fun of it. And what is really amazing to me is that kids get it. Even little kids, first graders.

GG: Is there any thought of "Junie B., Second Grader"?

BP: No. The kids would like that. I get that as a question, because they think that's going to be the next step. The reason I moved her into first grade was because I could expand the storyline from kindergarten. Now she would be a full day, she would be a full-time student, she would have lunch, she would to move along and be able lose a tooth. But second grade doesn't do the same thing. It doesn't seem to open up any more doors that aren't already opened. At some point, I'm going to run out of natural story lines for this little girl. And I'm not going to do "June B., CIA Agent." I'm not going to go outside of the boundaries of a normal little girl's life. I just try to stay with really common, ordinary themes, and when I run out of those, I guess—I don't know. I don't know what we'll do.

GG: What age group is reading these books?

Junie B., First Grader

BP: A lot of kindergarten kids can read the books, because their parents have started reading to them at home at such early ages. But I would say that second graders and third graders are the biggest fans, and of course first, because she is in first grade now.

GG: Are we talking, as usual, about mainly girls?

BP: I would say two-thirds. I would say about one-third boys are usually in the [bookstore] lines, which is kind of cool. But I think part of it is because she's not a girlie-girl. She could be Johnnie B. Jones and the probably the stories wouldn't change very much.

GG: Do you have internal rules as to what you won't discuss in these books?

BP: No. I think I just monitor as it goes. One thing I have never liked—I've never thought it was funny to do bathroom humor, which tends to make little kids laugh a lot. To me, it's too easy of a joke.

GG: Were you like Junie B. as a child?

BP: I wasn't that over-the-top, but I got sent to the principal in first grade for talking. And my father was for a long time the president of the Board of Education. That was always a hard note to bring home.

For a perfect report card, visit Park's website.