Q: My daughter, now 25, sent me a link to a recent NY Times article in which detractors of the Junie B. children’s books wax wroth about the mangled English. My daughter—pursuing a master’s degree—writes, “I readed those bookses when i were littler, wats the problum?” (I will allow that her spelling, even when she’s serious, leaves much to be desired. She relies heavily on computer software that checks her output.)
Although I’m appalled to hear (presumably well-read) adults trip over the present perfect of irregular verbs or confuse word pairs that I learned about in second grade, I can’t get too worked up over stories that have fun with children’s—even fictional children’s—misspeakings. What say you?
A: I haven’t read the Junie B. Jones books, but my opinion is that anything that gets kids to read is a good thing. Whatever it takes to draw them in, short of tales of outright mayhem, can be justified.
My feeling is that Junie B. will lead on to Harry P. and Lemony Snicket and Jean Fritz and Roald Dahl and other well-written, grammatically impeccable reading.
I also feel that kids can tell the difference between an informal literary voice and a more correct one. Just as kids in bilingual households (lucky them!) can keep their languages straight, children who read a lot of different writers will learn to keep their Englishes straight.
Some of the same arguments against the Junie B. books could be used to prevent children from reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other first-person novels whose narrators mangle the Queen’s English.
In the real world, there are no filters. Children are influenced by TV, MySpace, music, advertising, movies, school, parents, heard-on-the-street vernacular, and so on. Their reading, too, isn’t all of a piece. It varies wildly. I say, let them sort it out. The more they read, the better.
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