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:
Lessing: “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”
Junie B: “Sometimes when I’m noisy, she [the teacher] claps her loud hands at me. It used to scare me very much. Only then I got used to it. And now I don’t even pay it any attention.”
Lessing: “I am a person who continually destroys the possibilities of a future because of the numbers of alternative viewpoints I can focus on the present.”
Junie B.: Another grandma came in. And she runned over to that Jim I hate. And she tried to hug him very tight.
Only that mean Jim just kept on standing there. And he didn’t even hug her back.
I tapped on her.
“I will hug you,” I said.
And so then me and her hugged real tight.
“I hate your grandboy,” I said very sweet.
Lessing: “As you get older, you don’t get wiser. You get irritable.”
Junie B.: “Our nannas are losers.”
Lessing: “That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way.”
Junie B.: “I don’t even like clowns. Clowns are not normal people.”
Lessing: “What’s terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better.”
Junie B.: “Do you have the rich kind of house? Or the regular kind of house?’ I asked her. ” ‘Cause I just have the regular kind of house. Except for mother wants the rich kind. Only daddy said lotsa luck.”
Lessing: “Laughter is by definition healthy.”
Junie B.: “A little glitter can turn your whole day around.”