Do you remember sitting in your first grade classroom learning to read from one of the Dick and Jane books? We older folks on the planet can just about mark our ages based on which Dick and Jane edition we learned to read from. Learn to read with Sally, Dick, and Jane? Then you are probably a child of the fifties. Remember Mike, Pam and Penny? Then you most likely are a child of the sixties, when black children were introduced into the readers.
The series is called the Curriculum Foundation Series and was authored by Dr. William S. Gray and William H. Elson. The Curriculum Foundation Series evolved out of a set of elementary readers called the Elson Readers. A Dick and Jane collector will recognize some of the same stories in both sets of readers. All serious Dick and Jane collectors should strive to include the Elson Readers in their sets.
The first Dick and Jane book was a 1930 Pre-Reader, a wordless picture book. New titles were introduced in 1940, 1946, 1951, 1962, and lastly in 1965. The illustrators for Dick and Jane books changed, as well as the look of the books through the decades. Mew the kitten became Puff. Happy changed from a Terrier to Spot the Cocker Spaniel. Toys changed, as did clothing, and the cars Mother and Father drove.
The books are based on limited basic vocabulary and the plot of each story is delivered through profuse illustrations. Well-known Dick and Jane book illustrator Eleanor Campbell used photographs of children at play to create vivid colorful illustrations. Richard Childress had his two young daughters model for his Jane and Sally illustrations.
Besides the paper books with staples and cloth tape spines, there were also Dick and Jane hard cover books, workbooks, guide books, posters, puzzles, calendars, napkins, valentines, mugs and teacher manuals. There were picture books without words for pre-readers, and there were pre-primers (We Look and See, We Work and Play, We Come and Go), the Junior Primer (Guess Who), and the Primer (Fun with Dick and Jane). Dick and Jane also taught basic hygiene and health in Good Times with Our Friends.
Along with reading basics, each release of the Dick and Jane series taught values such as sharing, responsibility, health, safety and helping others. Exact copies of the books were published for Canadian schools. Catholic schools also adopted the curriculum and revised the books to include Catholic teachings in the stories. In about half of the Cathedral editions, Dick, Jane and Sally have been renamed John, Jean and Judy.
In the sixties, the perfect family life of Mother, Father, Dick and Jane in their white suburban world began to be questioned. In response, the publishers in 1965 expanded the neighborhood of Dick and Jane to include a black family. Despite this major change, controversy continued to grow. In 1970, Scott, Foresman and Company made the decision to stop publishing the Dick and Jane series.
Many schools ordered all remaining books be destroyed. Teachers, staff, and some students kept some of the discarded books, and these are the books collectors seek today. Dick and Jane pre-primers and primers can still be found, but are becoming scarcer. Teaching aids such as the flashcards, the paper doll cut-outs and Our Big Book (the large easel-supported book) are commanding high prices due to their scarcity.
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. While there are no books or stories within the Dick and Jane books series titled See Spot Run, it is a sentence used in several early stories of the series. This nostalgic 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.
Many of us want a Dick and Jane book because it is a part of our past. Others want their children to learn to read from them. Many baby-boomers remember them well, for they taught us to read, they kept our interest, and they helped us become life-long readers.