By Katarzyna Eluski
When I sat down with Junior at his favorite café in downtown Wayne, Pa., he was sipping warm banana milk (shaken, not stirred) and signing a stack of self-portraits.
“It’s hard to keep up with all of my fan mail,” the popular children’s book character said, “especially cause I haven’t learned how to read yet.”
Junior’s claim to fame came after Katie Pasek, his “guardian,” began writing about the orangutan’s antics.
“He thinks he’s a real orangutan, and not just a stuffed animal as he appears,” said Katie, who was joining us at the table — presumably to pay for Junior’s meal.
None of Junior’s fans seem to mind, though.
When Katie finished her first story, titled “Junior’s New Home,” she read the book to her mother’s second grade students at Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School in Levittown, Pa. Then she introduced them to Junior.
“He has no problem starting a conversation,” she said, “and after a minute the kids didn’t notice that he wasn’t the one doing the talking.”
“They asked me what I like to swing on and what my favorite foods are,” Junior recalled. “They also kept asking me math questions and were trying to tell me two plus two is four.”
Junior maintains the answer is really 22.
Since that initial reading in fall 2002, Katie has written three more stories about the orangutan, and Junior has met more than two dozen classrooms of children from first through sixth grade in both Emerson and nearby Clara Barton Elementary School.
The precocious primate has become something of a legend at Emerson, and children who have met or heard about Junior eagerly await his next visit.
Over the past few years Junior has had to field the occasional question about why his mouth doesn’t move when he talks — “He’s not a puppet or a ventriloquist’s dummy,” Katie explained — but he handles those inquiries with his trademark style.
“I just tell them it’s too much effort,” Junior said.
Katie declined to comment on the next tale in the continuing saga that is Junior’s daily life, but she said a book is in progress.
Junior, however, offered a hint for curious fans: “I get a chance to visit the zoo!”
Before we parted Junior passed me one of the signed photographs.
“You should frame it,” he said, “because someday I’m going to be famous!”
No doubt he will.
For more information about Junior, visit www.katiepasek.com.