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Bestselling Kids’ Books Spark Language Debate

It figures that the NYT would wake up to the Junie B. Jones “controversy” ages after everyone else did (remember, Sarah: NYT is for mass audience. GalleyCat is for informed smart publishing people. Gotcha) but Anna Jane Grossman has a pretty good rundown as to why the series, which has 43 million copies in print, continues to provoke such strong feelings in parents: the more-than-loose grammar in Junie B’s speech.

The 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. But the series has been banned in Lewis and Susan Bartell‘s home in Old Westbury, N.Y. “My dad doesn’t like the grammar,” said the Bartells’s youngest, Mollie, 9. “And I guess that’s important, because maybe when you grow up and you’re at work and you say, ‘I runned,’ people will get annoyed at you.”

The author, Barbara Park, takes the negative letters in stride, but she had good reason for creating Junie’s grammatical oopses. “I didn’t know if my humor could really go down to the 5- or 6-year-old reading level,” said Park, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz, after Random House approached her to do a chapter book series that would be easy to read. “But I said I’d try, and the way I decided to go about that was to write in first person as a 5-year-old. That’s the way I best like to write, putting myself in the head of a character.”

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