Children’s author Barbara Park, long appreciated for her stories that blend humor and heart, and best-known as the creator of irrepressible kindergartner Junie B. Jones, died on Friday, November 15, after a long battle with ovarian cancer.
Park was born Barbara Tidswell in Mount Holly, N.J. in 1947 and grew up there. She attended Rider College and, after transferring, she graduated from the University of Alabama in 1969. She was married later that same year and she and her husband Richard Park had two sons. She was a longtime resident of Scottsdale, Ariz.
Park has said that her writing career was largely born as a way to express her sense of humor. In high school she developed a love for reading and, “I had also begun to find myself quite amusing (though certainly not everyone agreed with me on that one),” she wrote in a Random House biography that answers questions from children. She had initially studied to become a high school teacher though she did not pursue the profession. Park tried her hand at writing a “funny” book while she was at home with her young sons.
Operation: Dump the Chump was the first manuscript that Park sent out to publishers and after three rejections from various companies, Knopf acquired the book, along with two others. Don’t Make Me Smile (1981) was Park’s first published novel, followed by Operation: Dump the Chump (1982) and Skinnybones (1982). Her novel Mick Harte Was Here (1995) was hailed in part for its message about the importance of wearing bicycle helmets.
She continued to write warmly received middle grade novels and in 1992 launched her bestselling early chapter series with Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus. The series celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and boasts 29 titles and more than 55 million copies sold in North America alone. Reflecting on that milestone, Park told PW in an interview: “For 20 years I’ve gotten to laugh my way through my work,” she says. “For me, that’s a dream job.”