Barbara Park: Still Clowning Around
Barbara Tidswell was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, on April 21, 1947. Mount Holly was a small town, surrounded by farms. Young Barbara was the class clown in elementary school. Whenever she thought of something funny, she would just blurt it out to share with everyone in the room. In fact, she got sent to the principal's office for talking too much. This was not a cool thing to have happen as her dad was then president of the school board! She also loved to read comic books. In high school and college, she studied to be a teacher. She thought she might be able to add some humor to dull science classes. Barbara never thought back then that she would be a writer.
But after college, Barbara married Richard Park. He was in the Air Force, and she stayed home to raise their two boys, Steven and David. Barbara did try teaching just a little bit, but she discovered she did not enjoy it. One day, her son brought home a funny book written by Judy Blume. Aha! Here, she realized, was a way she could share her humorous side with the world while still taking care of her kids at home.
She set herself a deadline of two years to finish her first book. Operation Dump the Chump is a sly look at the way a pair of brothers can drive each other and their parents crazy. This first manuscript was rejected three times, but it was finally bought, along with two other stories. Don't Make Me Smile, the story of a boy whose world crashes around him when his parents get divorced, was the first one in print.
Barbara Park is very funny lady, but over the years she's written several books about serious topics.
She likes the challenge: "Mick Harte Was Here was a very difficult book to write. But of all my books, I like it the best."
Mick Harte, as told by his sister Phoebe, is a painful and honest remembrance of Mick's very last day. Mick's story was inspired by an accident that happened to a child in Barbara's neighborhood. Unlike most of her books, this one really does have an important message for the reader to take to heart.
On the lighter side, Skinnybones features Alex, a funny, nerdy kid who wants to/has to play Little League. Of course, his team gets creamed. But it's a lot harder to take when the other team's star player is also the class bully. If you like Skinnybones, look for its sequel, Almost Starring Skinnybones.
What's as bad as a bully who won't leave you alone? How about losing all your friends at once? Howard has to move to a new town. He realizes that he'll be the new kid there. For a long time, nobody will even bother to know his name. He'll just be The Kid in the Red Jacket.
In elementary school, there's just comedy waiting to happen. You take a fat kid, a brain, and a tattletale. Put them someplace they never expected to be (the principal's office), and let the punch lines roll. Maxie, Rosie, and Earl don't think they deserve their punishments, so they decide to do something about it. The trio's adventures continue in Rosie Swanson, Fourth Grade Geek for President and Dear God, Help! Love, Earl.
The most famous of Barbara's fictional kids is Junie B. Jones. This smart-mouthed kindergartener is the star of a long series of beginning chapter books for younger readers.
Who is Junie B. Jones?
Junie B. Jones has some unusual personal qualities, to wit, Her Big, Fat Mouth and a less-than-perfect command of the English language.
An Award-winning Author
Besides being great reads, many of Barbara Park's books have won important awards:
Children's Choice Award, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council, 1983, for Beanpole, 1987, for The Kid in the Red Jacket, and 1997, for Junie B. Jones and That Meanie Jim's Birthday; Young Hoosier Award, 1985, for Operation: Dump the Chump; Georgia Children's Book Award, Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, and Texas Bluebonnet Award, all 1985, and Utah Children's Book Award, 1987, all for Skinnybones; Parents' Choice Award, 1985, for Buddies, 1987, for The Kid in the Red Jacket, 1990, for Maxie, Rosie, and Earl--Partners in Grime, and 1991, for Rosie Swanton--Fourth Grade Geek for President; Milner Award, 1986, for Operation: Dump the Chump; Tennessee Children's Choice Book Award, 1986, for Operation: Dump the Chump, and 1987, for Skinnybones; Best Children's Book of the Year, School Library Journal, 1987, for The Kid in the Red Jacket; Library of Congress Book of the Year, 1987, for The Kid in the Red Jacket, 1990, for Maxie, Rosie, and Earl--Partners in Grime, and 1991, for Rosie Swanton--Fourth Grade Geek for President; West Virginia Honor Book, 1990, for The Kid in the Red Jacket, and 1991, for My Mother Got Married (And Other Disasters); Young Adults' Choice, International Reading Association, 1997, for Mick Harte Was Here.
These days, Barbara and her husband live in Arizona, as they have for 30 years. She has a golden retriever named Maggie and likes taking hikes in the desert. In her spare time, she enjoys napping and eating frozen M & M's. One thing she definitely loves about her work: she can work in her pajamas if she wants.
Want to write to Barbara Parks?
Barbara Park, care of Random House, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036
You can read more about Barbara Parks online:
Junie B. Jones
Junie B.'s (and Barbara Park's) Web site has lots of fun things to do: coloring, puzzles, and a place to ask Barbara Park questions. About Barbara Park has answers to dozens of readers' questions. The Teachers' Corner has fun activities about Junie B. and her friends to use in the classroom.
Meet the Writers: Barbara Park
Barbara talks about how she writes from Junie B.'s point of view, Junie's future plans, and what makes the series special for reluctant readers.
Reading is Fundamental: Barbara Park
Barbara answers kids' questions about Junie B. Jones.
PowerSearch: Literature Resource Center, Biography Resource Center, and The Professional Collection
Scholarly articles and reviews on Barbara and her works are pulled from these reference works and other magazines: Contemporary Authors and Major Authors and Illustrators for Young Adults.