As I mentioned in this week’s From the Family Bookshelf, before the Lil Diva officially declared she hated reading, she was engrossed in Junie B. Jones is (almost) a Flower Girl by Barbara Park. Now, until this book, I had no exposure to any of the Junie B. Jones books, but I know that the Lil Diva has mentioned how much she loved them on more than one occasion–prior to her announce hatred of reading, of course.
Every Monday through Thursday in school the students are required to read 20 minutes a night and log it. One night, she was feeling a bit lazy and asked me to read. I agreed to do it and we sat down to read the next several pages in June B. Jones is (almost) a Flower Girl.
Imagine my horror when Junie B. Jones said, “‘zactly” instead of “exactly”, “worstest” instead of “worst”, and “runned” instead of “ran”. Now, I’m not claiming that five-year-old children don’t speak that way, but if these books are going to be used in schools, shouldn’t the grammar be more accurate?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to love in this book too: it’s hilarious, Junie B. Jones and her friends are adorable, and all the characters act exactly the way I imagine they would. I just get to wondering if cadence and the need to create unique characters becomes more important than proper English sometimes.
In my middle grade novel, Amelia’s Mission, I’m struggling with cadence too. I don’t want all the African Americans sounding the same, but I want their manner of speaking to help paint a picture for my readers. Ralph is a Negro teenage boy who has lived most of his life up north. Bertha, however, lived in the south, escaped slavery, and is now Aunt Martha’s paid servant. Aunt Martha, Ronald, and many of the residents of my fictional New England town, Westwood, have spent their entire lives there. Amelia, grew up in Pennsylvania, but moves to Westwood after the death of her parents. Their geographical locations will influence their manner of speaking, but I don’t want that to be so prominent the reader finds it distracting.
What are your feelings on cadence in children’s books? Should it be limited? Is it okay for characters to use age-appropriate language? What is more important to you: that your child reads or that the author uses proper english?
I look forward to hearing from you.