Friday, July 27, 2007

My baby sister readed Junie B. and her grammar is fine.

I've always loved to read. From the days when my mom made me name all the letters in Paddington Goes to the Circus to the day I read my first book all by myself (it was called Balloons; I was 3 and a half; the next books in the series were Bears and finally the incredibly advanced Boats). There's video footage of me at 3 "pretending" to read a picture book; I have a nonsensical plot, but I guess that's where you can point out that I also always loved to tell stories. You can say that once I started reading, I never stopped.

My little sister, on the other hand, hated reading. She hated the painstaking process of reading each letter, putting them together, spelling out the word phonetically, and making sense of it. Reading with her was torturous. She tried to guess words without properly reading the letters. She mistook g's for q's and b's for d's and vice versa. We had this little box of slim volumes designed as a step-up system for her to read. One night my mom was busy with something else, so I took her upstairs to the bedroom and tried to flow through some book about frogs. After every word, she was screaming, "I don't want to read anymore! I give up!"

Nowadays, my sister reminds me a little of me. Reading at the dinner table, reading on the car, even trying to read while walking (I used to do this too). She loves reading (although her taste in books is less open-minded than mine was at her age), and she rarely travels without a book. At an age when girls are starting to get into bad teen magazines, she still reads novels, and I think that's wonderful.

So. What finally won her over? I believe it started with a little series called Junie B. Jones. I'm not sure how she found out about it - if it was her kindergarten teacher or my mom who read it to her first, but pretty soon she was hooked. Junie B. was interesting enough that my sister wanted to get ahead and read them for herself - she wanted to have read the next book in the series before any of her friends did or her teacher could have them read in class. So we bought volume after volume. They were all over the place, spilling out of my bookshelves, tossed on the ground and on the sofa and basically anywhere where there was a flat surface. They involved Junie B. and her valentines, Junie B. taking a fruitcake from a cake walk, Junie B. and gross annoying boys. [I know this because I read them. Not to her, but um, on my own. Because they were everywhere. And sometimes I sat next to one on the couch and I was bored and with my masterful reading skills, it only took me a couple of minutes to get through each one.] My sister delighted in Junie B.'s antics. Her little tantrums, her fiascos, her plots, everything about her. This girl was like her, in a bolder form, and my sister loved her for it.

I'm telling you. These books singlehandedly gave my sister the love of reading.

Eventually, she outgrew them, and even though Junie B. eventually moved to first grade, by first grade, my sister was no longer into Junie B.

The only reason I bring all of this up today is because of all the uproar on this long-standing series (which I'm delighted to know is still going on) and the fact that it uses "improper grammar". The thing is, books use improper grammar all the time. And you can say that it's different because we're adults and these are influential kids books. But I'm really hoping that there are other forces at work here besides just these books alone teaching your kids proper English. You know, like parents speaking to them properly and school and teachers and other forms of writing and media... to place it all on the burden of some books about a little girl is, well, somewhat absurd. I mean, come on people, the stories are written in the first person of a 5 year old. If she started talking like my grandma, I don't know that they'd work quite as well.

All I can say is that I think at such a young age, sure, we want them to learn proper language. But I also think that we want them to learn to love to read. And I know at least for my little sister, it did just that.


I applaud Vulture for this hilarious blog post on this issue. I laughed out loud and choked on my water when I read this. (The reference to the obesity study seals the deal for me, but that's only because I work in the healthcare industry and we care about things like this.)

1 drops:

moonrat said...

yeah, I read the TIMES yesterday and thought it was a little unbelievable. Unfortunately I needed Vulture to point out how very, very ridiculous (the obesity reference helped muchly).

Sometimes I hate people.

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