Barbara Park, Junie B. Jones author, dies at 66


Author Barbara Park in 2007. She channeled her irreverence into the million-selling mishaps of grade-schooler Junie B. Jones. (Pamela Tidswell/Courtesy of Random House)
November 17, 2013

Barbara Park, a former class clown who channeled her irreverence into the million-selling mishaps of grade-schooler Junie B. Jones, died Nov. 15 in Scottsdale, Ariz. She was 66.

The cause was ovarian cancer, according to a statement from Random House Books for Young Readers.

Starting in 1992, Mrs. Park wrote more than 30 illustrated chapter books about the smart-mouthed girl with an ungrammatical opinion of everybody — her parents, her teachers, her friends and her classmate and enemy for life, May, who is so mean she won’t even acknowledge Junie’s middle initial (which stands for Beatrice: “Only I don’t like Beatrice. I just like B and that’s all,” Junie warned).

The books’ titles were windows into Junie’s slangy mind: “Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth,” “Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus,” “Junie B. Jones and That Meanie Jim’s Birthday.” Junie was stuck in kindergarten for years before Mrs. Park advanced her to the next class, starting with Book 18 and “Junie B., First Grader (at last!).”

“I don’t have a problem being 6 years old in my head,” Mrs. Park once explained during an interview with Barnesandnoble.com. “It’s almost embarrassing; if I’m talking to librarians or teachers who know my books and they say, ‘How do you do this?’ It’s not a stretch.

“I find that when I’m struggling to think of how a 6-year-old would feel about something, I just have to go right down to the common denominator, find the simplest way that you can look at an object or a problem, and not muck it up with all of the stuff that adults do and over-analyze,” she said.

Mrs. Park’s books sold more than 55 million copies in North America, according to Random House, and the series was adapted into a popular musical theater production. Junie B. inspired much laughter among families, and a few frowns.

Parents and educators occasionally objected to Jones’s personalized language and cheeky ways, worrying that she was a bad influence on her fans. The series sometimes appeared on the American Library Association’s list of “challenged” books.

Barbara Tidswell was born April 21, 1947, in Mount Holly, N.J. She remembered herself as a troublemaker who knew well the path to the principal’s office.

She had planned to become a teacher, majoring in education at the University of Alabama, but a year of being a student teacher for seventh-graders convinced her that any further classroom experiences should be confined to paper.

She graduated in 1969, the year she married Richard Park, a commercial real estate broker. Besides her husband, of Scottsdale, survivors include two sons.

Mrs. Park would cite “The Catcher in the Rye” as an early literary influence and also credited the books of Judy Blume with inspiring her to write for children, and to make the stories funny.

On Sunday, Blume praised Mrs. Park for getting kids to read and recalled that some would confuse her with the title character of Mrs. Park’s books.

“I’m Judy B. and lot of kids just assumed I was Junie B. Jones and had written the books,” Blume told the Associated Press. “I’d always say, ‘I didn’t write them, but I wish I had.’ ”

Besides the “Junie B. Jones” series, Mrs. Park also wrote picture books, novels for middle school students and even a Hallmark greeting card, an “insulting” birthday message about getting old. She was a frequent winner of the Children’s Choice Award who never wrote a novel for adults.

“I’m not actually sure I’m grown up enough for grown-up books,” she said.

Mrs. Park helped found a charitable organization, Sisters in Survival, to raise money for women with ovarian cancer.

— Associated Press