On Not Acting (or Writing) Your Age
When I started thinking about which author I would write about for this month’s blog theme, my head was swimming. Should I focus on Beverly Cleary, who inspired me with her wonderfully funny books when I was a child? Judy Blume, who told the truth? Laura Ingalls Wilder, who made me feel as if I actually lived on the prairie? Arnold Lobel, whose delightfully weird Mouse Soup still cracks me up every time I read it?
But then I thought of an author whose books weren’t around when I was a child but who gave my daughters and me lots and lots of laughs: Barbara Park. For books that seem so simple, the Junie B. Jones series certainly taught me a lot about writing for kids. First of all, plot. Wow, could that woman keep a plot moving! There is never a point in any Junie B. book where your mind wanders or you’re not dying to turn the page to see what happens next. Second, audience analysis. Park knew what her readers would enjoy. Third, humor. How did she come up with all the crazy antics of our heroine? Taking a fish stick to school for show and tell on pet day? Genius!
But most of all, voice. The wonderful thing about Barbara Park is that I doubt most young readers who love Junie B. even know who Barbara Park is. Park, because of her amazing skill, is invisible. You really believe that a little girl named Junie B. Jones is telling you a story because the voice is so strong. You forget that an actual adult could be behind it.
As Junie B. once said, “Sometimes grown ups don’t act their right old age.” And thank goodness for all of us that Barbara Park didn’t write her “right old age,” either.