by Judy Newman
I want to take this opportunity to share something about children’s book publishing and what it takes to get chapter book characters and their worlds and stories embedded in the hearts and minds and libraries of children.
It takes time and perseverance and the ability to stay connected to kids. But perhaps even more importantly—in the spirit of both Winston Churchill (“Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”) and Junie B. Jones’s teacher, Mrs. (“One of the things we learn in Field Day is to never give up. Room Nine is not a bunch of quitters.”)—you can never give up.
Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day is the 16th book in the Junie B. Jones early chapter book series by Barbara Park. I remember when I first came to work at Scholastic in 1993, and Barbara Park’s agent called and asked if we would please consider offering the Junie B. Jones books in the Scholastic Book Clubs catalogs because kids love them. And that’s exactly what we did. All these decades later, Junie B. Jones is still a favorite of teachers, students, and families. As Publishers Weekly says: “Park convinces beginning readers that Junie B.—and reading—are lots of fun.”
The first title in the series—Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus—was published in 1992. Nearly 30 years later, the series has more than 55 million copies in print and has been translated into 12 languages. Junie B.’s wit and outspokenness, coupled with her tendency to speak—at times in grammatically incorrect ways—like an actual kindergartner, landed the book at #71 on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000–2009.
But her uninhibited attitude and occasional poor spelling and grammar are exactly why I love Junie B., and I think these are just two of the many reasons that the books inaugurate so many kids into reading. After nearly a decade, Junie B. finally graduated from kindergarten to first grade in Junie B., First Grader (at Last!), going on to eventually star in 11 more books in an extension of the original series. Junie B. has been made into a doll, her books sparked a musical, and for a decade, Junie B. was the host of a cross-country Stupid Smelly Bus Tour. Plus she is the inspiration for millions of Halloween costumes. The series may have been challenged, but there’s no doubt it clearly resonates with kids year after year.
Like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby and the kids of Klickitat Street, Ann M. Martin’s the Baby-Sitters Club, Jerry Pallotta’s Who Would Win? series, and R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Barbara Park captures the authentic voice and attitudes and concerns of children. These children’s book creators (and my personal and literary heroes) understand what kids want to read. They capture the spirit and interests of being a child. Which makes young readers—who all start out so excited to learn and love to read—want to pick up book after book after book and keep reading.
Series are foundational in children’s book publishing. Kids discover them when they are transitioning from having picture books read to them to independent reading. The books they are reading for pleasure need to be, well…pleasurable. Fun and relatable and accessible and interesting. Not too hard. Not frustrating. Once a kid gets hooked on a series, they’ll want to keep going and going.
People often ask me for help in getting their own children’s books published. There are many great resources available on this topic, but I would also say:
• Find some real kids and read your story aloud to them. See if they like it; see if they are bored.
• Check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and become part of a vibrant, creative, supportive community for aspiring children’s book creators.
• Read every book in bestselling series that kids have loved for decades and try to understand what these authors are capturing in their stories.
Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day—the Scholastic Book Clubs Book of the Week—is a great place to start.
“Junie’s swarms of young fans will continue to delight in her unique take on the world....A hilarious, first-rate read-aloud.” —Kirkus Reviews
In the story, it’s Field Day for Rooms Eight and Nine, and Junie B. is at it again, creating chaos and warming hearts with her incredible spunkiness.
After Junie B. wins the drawing for Field Day Captain, it’s her job to keep Room Nine united on its path to victory over Room Eight. The trouble is, Junie B. Jones has a lot to learn about good sportsmanship, what it means to support her team as a leader, how to set good examples on the field, and to never underestimate your opponent. While Junie B. maintains her uber-confident outlook that Room Nine will be victorious, Room Eight ultimately has what it takes—including knowing how to work together—to win many of the Field Day events.
Junie B., though, in her spunky, charming, inimitable way, does learn valuable lessons about sportsmanship and being a good leader by the end of the book. Junie B. asks Mrs. to give her cape to her classmate William, a gentle, scrawny-looking kid who helps Room Nine win the pull-up event against a very formidable Strong Frankie from Room Eight. Being a good team captain (and tooting her own horn), Junie B. calls William “our superhero.”
After reading Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day, David Vozar—always a strong competitor—reflected on his athletic prowess (or self-described lack thereof):
This week, we put together several videos and resources to help you and your students get the most out of Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day:
• The Book Boys have their own friendly Field Day and learn what being a true captain means in a fun, class-friendly video.
• Read and share with students seven fun facts about the Junie B. Jones series in Behind the Scenes.
• Hear from second grade teacher Samantha Bradshaw on how she uses Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day to inspire Readers’ Theater in Book Talks.
• Download two FREE printable activities in Cooked Up from a Book on making predictions and using Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day to perform a Readers’ Theater scene.
I hope that Junie B. Jones Is Captain Field Day is a winner in your class—and that in addition to helping kids understand what it means to be a real captain, this installment in a timeless early chapter book series inspires your students to keep on reading.
As Junie B. herself would say: “Books are my very favorite things in the whole world! Read this next book about me AND I mean it.”
As always, I love to hear any stories about reading you’d like to share. Please feel free to email me anytime at: email@example.com.