Whether you like Junie B. Jones or couldn't stand her improper grammar, the character became a cultural phenom and influenced millions of children, including my own. We have a shelf full of Barbara Park's books, and they are all well read. Even though my kids have outgrown Junie, I have no intention of getting rid of the books. They are a reminder of great times spent with my kids, laughing at Junie B.'s antics, and teaching my kids to read.
Recently, my youngest and one of her friends decided to make a Junie B. movie, and they began adapting the book into a screenplay first. I think Barbara Park would be pleased.
Park was more than an influential writer, something I bet that most writers would like to be remembered for when they pass. I'll always remember her for something else, as well, something she didn't announce publicly, something you cannot find a news clip about (at least, I couldn't, and I knew exactly what I was looking for).
The most public hint you'll get is in the dedication of one of her books. But I'll get to that in a minute.
A cousin-in-law's daughter, Makenzie, became very ill back in 2006 with a low-grade brain stem tumor, which threatened to take away her eyesight as well as her life. The extended relatives on that side of the family held group fasts and prayers for this young girl, who loved to read, and, yes, who loved Junie B.
Makenzie's dream was to grow up to become a real-life published novelist someday. We all hoped she'd grow up, but that wasn't a guarantee. In the meantime, enter Make-A-Wish for the next best thing. They arranged for her to meet and spend the day with Barbara Park, her idol. I don't know what all went on that day except that it was a very special time between a special lady and a special little girl. That was November of 2006.
Barbara Park didn't broadcast the fact that she'd done this wonderful thing. The only clue anyone had was in the front of her next book, which was released the following February. She dedicated that book to Makenzie in the voice of Junie B.
Open Junie B., First Grader: Dumb Bunny, which has Junie B. in a pink Easter bunny costume (see the cover at the top of this post), and you'll find it:
Dear my brand-newest friend Makenzie Moore,
This book is dedicated especially to you from me!
I hope it makes you laugh and laugh!
Love and hugs,
Junie B., First Grader
P.S. Plus also, thank you to Make-A-Wish for introducing us!(You can also read the dedication on Amazon using the Look Inside feature.)
Fortunately, seven years after their meeting, Makenzie is still with us, and, last I heard, she is doing well as a teenager, with doctors still monitoring her tumor.
With Park's death, I thought the right time had come to let a few other people know about a small thing she did that, to me, shows the kindness she had in her heart and the love she had for children, which is so evident in her books.
I find it strangely sad that she died of cancer after a different kind of cancer hit the young girl Park helped to cheer up one day. I hope she has her own angels now, making her wishes come true.
RIP, Barbara Park.