You’ve picked up a popular book for children (under 14), but you quickly notice that the narrator of the story uses a great deal of improper English, and language typical of kids-trying-to-be-cool’. What do you make of it?
Children do not know what constitutes good quality writing and what does not. They do not yet know the appropriate context for certain language and what is not. They may not know whether a break with quality and context is a literary device, or a legitimate way of writing or speaking.
Consider this narrator (also a Grade One student in the story):
Just then I quick stopped writing.
‘Cause I couldn’t believe my eyeballs!
That snoopy-head May was stretching her neck across the aisle!
And was reading my journal page!
I slammed my book shut speedy fast.
. . .
[Calling on the teacher:]
“Mr. Scary! Mr. Scary!” she hollered real loud.
. . .
[a tussle over the journal ensued]
I pulled and pulled with all of my might!
And me and my journal went flying back to my seat.
I hugged my book all safe and sound.*
Readers know what narrator Junie B. means, and children enjoy the stories. But children may not recognize the mistakes, and could copy them. Many of the mistakes, such as “quick stopped writing” are contrived, the author’s pleased display of the finding new ways to corrupt English. Speaking of the Junie B Jones series, one editor at “bellaonline” observes,
Parents dislike the inclusion of the poor grammar. Parents of children for whom English is a Second Language say her English confuses their children.
The narrating voice in literature for young children should never be based in corrupt English. If a character uses corrupt English, the author must compose dialogue in a way that clearly contrasts the good and poor use of language, so the child reader can easily grasp the difference. That cannot be done when the narrator is also a linguistically challenged character in the book.
Purposeful use of poor English, in a children’s book, appears to be rationalized as communicating at a juvenile reading level and/or an appeal to the young reader’s need for peer acceptance. I’m not sure which is the more cynical and condescending.
Sure, the child reading the odd book with corrupt English will get past it, but why put them through it at all? There are thousands of smart children’s books out there that are better written and at least as entertaining.