July 27, 2007

fun - funner - funnest

Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?

AT her all-day princess-theme party for her graduation from preschool, Lyra Alvis had her face painted, went first down the water slide and was even allowed to eat the flower on the cake. “It was the best day of my life,” said Lyra, 5, who lives in Nashville.

At least until bedtime. That is when her father, Lance Alvis, did something he’d never done before: Midway through a book that was a gift from a friend, he insisted she pick out something different to read.

“But I love this book,” Lyra said.

The paperback in question was about Junie B. Jones, the hero of a popular Random House early reading series that has divided parents since it was introduced 15 years ago. With more than 43 million copies in print and a stage show touring the country, the series has its share of die-hard fans and is required summer reading at many elementary schools.

But more than a few parents have taken issue with Junie B., as she is called. 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.

The spunky kindergartener (first grader in more recent volumes) is prone to troublemaking, often calls people names and isn’t averse to talking back to her teachers. And though she is the narrator of the stories, she struggles with grammar. Her adverbs lack the suffix “ly”; subject and object pronouns give her problems, as do possessives; she usually isn’t able to conjugate irregular past tense verbs; and words like funnest and beautifuller are the mainstays of her vocabulary.

I've never heard of the books, but it seems to me that Junie B.'s linguistic development is very normal. I wonder if parents who worry that reading a book in which a five-year old talks like a five-year old will impede their children's linguistic development would prefer it if their child did not interact with other children under the age of, say, eight, at all? After all, they may struggle with irregular forms as well. And let's just hope that the children that are brought up in Junie-free households will not freak out the first time they find dropped -ly affixes in Shakespeare and Austen or when they find that fun is recognized as an adjective in Merriam-Webster's dictionary (and yes, the expected superlative -- since it's a one-syllable adjective -- is funnest).

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