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Children's author, Barbara Park, dies of cancer

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Barbara Park, the author of the best-selling Junie B. Jones series for children, has died at age 66 after a long battle against of ovarian cancer, her publisher said on Monday.

Park's series about a funny kindergartner sold 55 million copies in North America alone and spent 180 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.

"She died on Friday. She was at home in Scottsdale, Arizona," said Nicole Banholzer, an associate publicist for Random House children's books.

"She was most famous for the Junie books. She did write a couple of picture books and middle-grade (books)," Banholzer added.

The Junie B. Jones stories, although big sellers, also drew criticism from parents for Junie's struggles with grammar and troublemaking. The series was one of the most banned and challenged books in the last decade.

Park, who was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, intended to teach history and political science to secondary school students but instead decided to try writing. Her first book, "Operation Dump the Chump" was published in 1982 after three rejections.

She published more than 50 books, including the picture book "Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here!" to middle-grade novels such as "Skinnybones," "The Kid in the Red Jacket," and "The Graduation of Jake Moon."

Park won numerous awards, including several Children's Choice Awards.

The author once said some people measure the value of a children's book in terms of morals lessons it tries to impose or role models it depicts, but she did not agree.

"Personally, I happen to think that a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. In fact, I happen to think that's huge," she said.

In addition to her books, Park, who battled cancer for more than seven years, founded the non-profit group, Sisters in Survival (SIS), with her husband Richard.

SIS offers financial aid to women suffering from ovarian cancer and works with doctors and medical centers to provide medication and treatment.

Park was also a "wish" for dying children who wanted to meet her through the Make a Wish Foundation.

She is survived by her husband, two sons and two grandsons.

(Editing by Eric Kelsey and David Brunnstrom)

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