Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: Barbara Park

I chanced upon this biography of Barbara Park while browsing through a library children's book sale (ooh, how I love those and this netted a whole bag of books for a dollar! Score!).  This is part of the "Who Wrote That" series put out by Chelsea House Publishers.  I was thrilled to snatch it up and thrilled to read about this author's interesting journey.

I think Barbara Park is the first author my youngest son knows by name.  His kindergarten teacher has been in the process of reading all the "Junie B. Jones" books to the class.  Every time he returns from the school library, he brings home another Junie B. book.  He is bewitched.  He is astonished at how many books there are in the series.

I will admit to feeling a bit annoyed with Junie B. as I read (the mixed-up words she uses not only bothers me, but also big brother Trevor, who is forever interjecting the word which should have been used).  Not only that, her character is quite brash and sometimes disrespectful.  However, I have a deep respect for any character that can motivate a child to latch onto a series and hold on for dear life.  That is how Sean is at the moment.

Barbara Park didn't really set out to be a writer.  How often do we hear that?  She tried teaching and felt it wasn't a good fit.  Then, when her children were in school, she began to ask what her strengths were and she knew that she was funny.  She set out to write funny things, trying her hand at many different genres.  I loved the tale of her first sale to Hallmark cards.  The front read: "Isn't it ridiculous the way some people react to getting older? Face lifts, wigs, wrinkle creams, etc.  There's no doubt about it ..."  Then, the inside read: "I really admire the way you've just let yourself go."  That gave me a good chuckle.

Like other authors, she didn't just write a manuscript and immediately become an overnight sensation.  It took several years of perseverance before she broke into the market.  She herself admits that she looks on her earliest books as a child does on their early artwork.  But once she was approached to write a series of books geared towards the younger set (Kindergarten to 3rd grade), she found her niche with her unique character, Junie B. Jones.

This book tells the story of her life and the path to her rising stardom in the children's literature world.  It gives snippets from each of her books.  I'm now eager to give one of her young adult novels a try (probably the one prompted by the death of a youngster on a bicycle near her home - it sounds heartwrenching, but also uplifting).  It was a joy to read of this author's life and her road to becoming an author.

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