The world lost two influential literary voices this week. Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing, best known for her novel The Golden Notebook, passed away Sunday at age 94. And Barbara Park, author of the beloved children’s books featuring her irascible character Junie B. Jones, died Friday after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Park was 66.
While it may not seem that these two very different authors have a lot in common, what Park and Lessing shared was a love of vocal women as well as sense of appreciation for life and its transient nature. Park captured what few writers for children manage to do successfully: the energy and curiosity of a girl with a questioning mind. For her part, Lessing was always adjusting the lens. As we get older, the clarity of a Junie B. Jones is harder to maintain, but Lessing asks us to remember, and to seek the authentic in an often exhausting world.
I wonder what Junie B. and Lessing might have to say to each other:
True Story: I remember getting my library card more vividly than I recall getting my driver’s license. My best memories of childhood were going to the library with my mom and checking out armfuls of books, which she would read to me for hours on end. At two, I am told, I would stand on tiptoe at the librarian’s desk and request favorites or authors (I didn’t know why the lady laughed at me. I guess most toddlers weren’t as particular.) I would rather go to the library than the movies, or the park, or anywhere else. Still true. The libraries I recall were nothing fancy. Maybe some bulletin boards heralding an upcoming holiday or new books perched half-open, standing on top of shelves. Of course in 197…(cough, cough), there were not nearly as many ways for a child to be entertained. The television had four channels (as God intended): ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. Cartoons were from 7am to 10am, period. No LOL cats, no Youtube…. I like to scare my son with these tidbits. Today, libraries are competing to keep your child reading and finding some interesting ways to do so, by engaging the imagination. Here are a few of my favorite new spaces, and some words from others who continue to love libraries: