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Columns

“Junie B. Jones” and the Stupid Smelly Stifling

By Nour L. Khachemoune, Contributing Opinion Writer
Nour L. Khachemoune ‘22-‘23 is a joint concentrator in Chemistry and Anthropology in Dunster House. Her column “Nostalgia: What’s it Hiding?” appears on alternate Thursdays.

“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.” Is there any opener that captures Junie B. Jones’s spirit better than her own iconic introduction? She may be five years old, in kindergarten, and originally set in 1992, but her personality transcends these barriers. Beyond the matter-of-fact use of her middle initial, her stories are most notable for her technically “incorrect” way of speaking, as she peppers her sentences liberally with words such as “runned” and “bestest.” Her creator, Barbara Park, has often been criticized for this, with some suggesting that this may teach children to speak incorrectly. To me, the way Junie B. Jones expresses herself is not only unharmful, but perhaps can teach even us adults the greatest lessons of all.

In “Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth,” she continues describing her world in her infamously blunt way, saying “I go to kindergarten. My room is named Room Nine. There are lots of rules in that place.” Clearly, she is aware of what’s going on. The adults in “that place” and her life as a whole frequently correct her grammar and even look down upon the way she refers to her classroom as being “named.” However, she never allows adults to crush her spirit, determinedly referring to her teacher as “Mrs. and that’s all,” as if she has no time for full names or other expectations for speech. She refuses to allow her world to be constrained, resisting the often frivolous expectations of adults in a daring manner even other adults may not have.

Junie B. defines certain terms for us as well. “Punishment is the school word for sitting at a big table all by yourself,” she notes after she receives it for speaking out of turn, revealing how she may not understand the reasoning behind the forced isolation. The adults around her frequently fail to explain what makes her behavior bad, leading her to believe that punishment is sitting alone for the sake of it. Similarly, she explains that “grounded, young lady” is when she has to “stay on her own ground,” but she cheekily reminds us, “plus also I can go on the rug.” Most egregiously, she even notes the rote memorization and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, complaining that she doesn’t “know what that dumb story is even talking about.” She must obediently offer allegiance to her country without understanding a word of it.

Her humorous witticisms explain how she sees the reprimands she faces, but also point out a trend in the way children are expected to behave—according to the “rules”—while being left in the dark about the reasoning behind such expectations.

Junie B. is intentionally characterized by her misbehavior, and we soak it in like a guilty pleasure. When I mention Junie B. Jones to others, without fail, they adopt a wistful expression that isn’t inspired by mentions of other childhood classics. The series is targeted at readers in grades one through three, readers who are older than Junie B. herself already. The initial draw for these readers is a nostalgia for being able to get away with her behavior. Even first graders think of themselves as much older and more in touch with the world compared to kindergartners. They have begun to learn which aspects of their personality and natural instincts they must stifle to fit into the expectations set for them at school.

Above all, Junie B. is repeatedly told to act like a lady and not to question the rules she finds unfair. When she dresses up as the school janitor for career day, she is laughed at by her parents and classmates alike because her interests deviate from the norm. The very concept of career day and children being urged to center their lives on work from a young age is problematic on its own, discouraging goals in life outside of work. While the other children speak of being a “rich artist” or even a CEO, Junie B. turns her focus away from money and towards what genuinely interests her about janitors: the way they help the school.

In class, “Mrs.” frequently admonishes Junie B. to control herself better, reminding her that “we’ve talked about this before” at every turn. The young readers experiencing Junie B.’s story for the first time may smirk at how little she understands about how to behave, as they have learned so much more about the arbitrary expectations set for them.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to envy Junie B. because she reminds us of a simpler age of life, when we too could be completely true to ourselves and challenge the often nonsense rules adults expect us to obey. We can learn from her instead, and encourage children and adults alike to be deliberate in everything we do and speak our minds. In her 17th book, she proudly notes that she has improved her grammar and visits the principal’s office less frequently compared to the earliest books. These improvements can hardly be criticized, but in turn, she loses some of her spirit. Perhaps the true issue lies in what kinds of rules we have in “that place.”

Nour L. Khachemoune ‘22-‘23 is a joint concentrator in Chemistry and Anthropology in Dunster House. Her column “Nostalgia: What’s it Hiding?” appears on alternate Thursdays.

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