Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff) is the 28th book about Junie B. Jones, and the first new book to be added to the series in quite some time. (Book 27, Dumb Bunny, was published in 2007.) Every class in Junie’s school has been tasked with creating a list of things they are thankful for to be entered into a school-wide contest. Junie’s teacher, Mr. Scary, is convinced his students can win, but makes the mistake of telling them the prize is a pumpkin pie, which the kids immediately claim will make them vomit. Still, though, they manage to compile quite an interesting list, which includes canned cranberry sauce, “exploding” biscuits, and nipsy doodles, a favorite treat of many of the kids.
If I had to name one series that library parents universally dislike, it is this one. If a parent is going to complain to me about their kid’s addiction to some series, it ten times more likely to be this one than any other. The chief complaint is always that Junie’s behavior glorifies disobedience, sometimes followed by a strong disapproval of Junie’s bad grammar. Usually, they also want me to suggest something “better” which might qualify as a “real book” - and they’re sure I’m sympathetic to their cause because I know kids’ books. I try not to share my opinion of the books too much, since I don’t want to judge any of the kids who love them, but up until now, I have sort of secretly been on their side.
I have read one Junie B. Jones book prior to this one, and what I remember about it is a very annoying main character, obnoxiously incorrect uses of language, and lots of bad behavior with little to no adult involvement. I found it insufferable as an adult, and I could not understand what kids saw in this annoying, badly behaved little girl. That was long before I was a children’s librarian, though, so when this new one came in to my library recently, I vowed to read it and figure out what I was missing. I still can’t say that I love Junie B., but I can sort of understand the popularity of the series now, and I might be able to offer some words of comfort to parents who are convinced these books are ruining their kids.
For one thing, I noticed that the grammar and behavior issues I so loathed were really not that noticeable in this book. Junie is annoying, yes, and at least one of her classmates can’t stand it when she constantly talks to her when they’re supposed to be quiet. And no, she doesn’t speak in perfect English all the time, but instances of bad grammar occur just a few times, and not on every page. Junie and her classmates seem unrealistically clever, making jokes that I’m not sure the average first grader could truly understand, but that doesn’t make them bad role models, or even annoying to read about - it just makes them a little less believable as real people.
Another thing I considered is that kids don’t actually like Junie B. herself, but that they like reading about her because she is everything they don’t dare to be. Real kids might feel nervous about calling out during class or speaking bluntly to their teachers, but Junie and her classmates have no problem announcing that they’re thankful for toilet paper and cranberry sauce that keeps the shape of its can when it’s poured out. This is an escapist story for kids, I think, giving them a chance to think about what school might be like if they acted like Junie, but I’d be surprised if kids starting talking to anyone the way Junie does, just based on reading the books.
Barbara Park also does a nice job of conveying the chaos of a classroom filled with outgoing and outspoken first graders. What the kids say might seem contrived and impossibly adult, but the overall action of the classroom and the energy among the kids is very real, as is Mr. Scary’s constant work to redirect the group and get them working.
Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff) is a typical Thanksgiving school story, and it will go over well with Junie B. fans, most of whom haven’t seen a new book about their favorite character in the entire time they’ve been able to read! Parents - fear not. Junie B., like Greg Heffley of Wimpy Kid fame, is fun to read about, but it seems unlikely that a child would get the idea from Junie’s stories that being like her is the key to success in school.
I borrowed Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff) from my local public library.