Jo-Ann Boepple: ‘Dick and Jane’ now household names

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, February 4, 2010

boeppleIn the Edwardsburg Museum is a room dedicated to the Edwardsburg Schools. On display are programs of school events, class composites and many pictures. There is one whole section of sports memorabilia including sport schedules, programs and  pictures of athletic teams, homecoming buttons and cheerleading uniforms. One entire bookcase holds a copy of almost every year book. Commencement invitations, graduation programs and diplomas are in another section.

A corner has a teacher’s desk with early teaching items, attendance books, directions for teachers  and  many textbooks. One book that takes a special place is the “Elson Reader.”
The “Elson Readers” were a complete reading curriculum for children from kindergarten through grade eight. These books started with a primer for kindergarten age and books one through eight for each of the grade levels.

William Harris Elson, the author of the books, wrote in his preface of “Book Five,” “This book offers a well-rounded course of reading covering all the types. Especially by means of groups of stories and poems that portray love of home and its festivals, love of our free country and its flag, and unselfish service to others, this book makes a stirring appeal to good citizenship. Moreover, it will be noted that wholesome ethical ideals pervade the literature throughout.”

In 1909 the “Elson Grammar School Reader” was the first in a nine-volume series of school readers. The “Readers” were among Elson’s earliest creations. Following a carefully planned model that stresses both improving comprehension and developing appreciation for literature, Elson organized the books in a way that built on the understanding and skills taught in earlier volumes.

Through the eighth grade, or age 13 to 14, each succeeding book in the “Elson Readers” series introduces students to increasingly complex genres and better writers. The result of using the series as intended is better reading skills and comprehension as well as a growing appreciation for good writing.

One of Elson’s books in the museum collection was written in 1911 for fifth grade.

You may find the literature in this book challenging for today’s  students. The book includes poetry, fables and stories such as Jonathan Swift’s “Gullivers Travels,” Washington Irving’s “Capturing the Wild Horse,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Paradise of Children” and the poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,  “The Song of Hiawatha.” Other stories were “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp,” “Ali Baba Open Sesame,” “Sinbad the Sailor” and “Robin Hood.”

Elson’s contributions to teaching children to read and appreciate literature included not only the “Elson Readers” but many other series for which he served as primary author or editor.  In the early 1930s, Elson  highlighted his successful career as an educator and author of textbook readers by creating the “Fun with and Dick and Jane” pre-primer readers.  Dick and Jane, their families, friends and pets entered the popular culture as symbols of childhood, and the books themselves became synonymous with the first steps in learning to read.

Millions of children learned to read with the “Dick and Jane” textbooks. Sally, Dick, Jane, Spot and Puff are a part of our national culture. “See Spot Run” is a sentence used in several early stories of the series. The sentence “See spot run” has even become a part of our cultural background with the release in 2001 of the movie by the same name.
Dick and Jane taught me to read and maybe you were one of the fortunate ones who also grew to know the family of Dick and Jane.

That’s all for this day!