We followed Dick and Jane into a bigger world...

Learning to read is one of the most important things we do as children. If we don't learn to read at an early age, school becomes more a prison than an adventure. The thoughts of millions of other people are forever lost to us. Happily for many children, Dick, Jane and Sally led the way to perceiving and understanding written words and into a wider world.

The Dick and Jane books evolved out of the Elson Readers. A Dick and Jane aficionado would recognize some of the same stories in both sets of readers. Does anyone remember a white bunny that hopped into the coal bin and came out as a black and white spotted bunny? Well, that bunny was an Elson Reader bunny before it was ever a Dick and Jane bunny, but the story is the same. Dick and Jane collectors should consider the Elson Readers part of their domain as well.

Dick and Jane, Baby Sally, Spot and Puff and their friends and neighbors appeared in flimsy little paper books with staples and cloth tape spines, sturdier hard cover books, work/guide books, posters, puzzles, calendars, napkins, valentines, mugs and teacher's manuals. There were picture books without words to get us used to story development, there were pre-primers (WE LOOK AND SEE, WE WORK AND PLAY, WE COME AND GO), a Junior Primer (GUESS WHO) for children who were not quite ready for the Primer (FUN WITH DICK AND JANE). And there were more.....

Dick and Jane were also used to teach basic hygiene and health in GOOD TIMES WITH OUR FRIENDS. You didn't know that's what you were learning, but three-year-old Sally's efforts to get dressed, washed and to eat were painless lessons, especially to the older, wiser six-year-olds who could feel superior.

The illustrators for Dick and Jane books changed, as did the "look" of the books through the decades. Toys changed - pedal cars and tricycles, wagons, bicycles, baby buggies and trains changed - as did clothing and Mom and Dad's cars with every illustrator's metamorphosis to keep the books up to date. Poor Spot changed from a terrier to a spaniel.

In the sixties, the exclusively white suburban world of Dick and Jane's neighborhood expanded to include more ethnic groups. However, in 1970, Scott, Foresman and Company stopped publishing Dick and Jane rather than to try to completely rewrite the basic books, which had survived a run of 40 years.

An amazing number of these books and ephemera are still around, but all is now in the realm of the collectible. Many books and posters were discarded and subsequently burned in barrels by janitors. Teacher's manuals and some of the children's books and posters were saved by nostalgic teachers. Some few were never used and stayed stored, forgotten, in closets. Almost every surviving book or piece of related ephemera has a story behind its survival.

Whether or not we agree with the philosophy depicted in Dick and Jane books, or with their theories of teaching methods, no one can argue that these books depict true, rock-solid, childhood memories of the opening of another world, the adventurous world of reading.

Copyright 1996 - 2001 C. Dickens Fine, Rare and Collectible Books, Atlanta, Georgia

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