guest post – knowing dick about dick and jane

From Linda Ellen at Keele’s Books & Collectables, Baraboo WI.

The baby boomers are attempting to recapture childhood memories by re-purchasing their early school readers. In most cases, this means looking for copies of their “Dick and Jane” readers, with Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot and Puff (the kitten). With so many books offered on on-line auctions as “Dick & Jane books”, some of which aren’t even from the original publisher, it can be confusing to understand what really is a “Dick and Jane” reader. The publisher always needs to be either Elson Gray (for the 1930’s editions), or Scott, Foresman (for all post-1930’s editions). Any book offered without that as the publisher is not a “Dick & Jane” reader.

The titles can also get confusing. The title which is best known is “Fun with Dick and Jane”, which is the Primer. There are three pre-primers. Depending upon what year they are from, the titles are different. Starting around 1940, the pre-primers were: We Look and See; We Work and Play; We Come and Go. Disposable workbooks, titled Think and Do, accompanied each volume. In 1962, the pre-primers were
re-named: Sally, Dick and Jane; Fun with Our Family, and Fun Wherever We Are.

The first book which carried Dick and Jane was the Elson Gray Pre-Primer, in 1930. In 1936, it was re-named Dick and Jane: Elson Gray Pre-Primer. In the first books Sally was just named “Baby”; she was first named “Sally” in the 1940 editions.

In 1940, the books were revised, and this is the series most “baby boomers” remember. In 1948, two health books were added, Happy Days With Our Friends and Good Times with our Friends. In the 1951 series, a book was added for between the pre-primers and the primer. It was titled Guess Who. There was also a kindergarten reading level set, mostly just pictures, called Before We Read.

There was also a series for use in the Catholic schools, the Cathedral Edition. The first year it used the names Dick, Jane and Sally. However, in keeping with Catholic tradition, for the next edition the names were changed to good Catholic names — John and Jean. Additional text was added of a religious nature. As a different artist was used for the new material it is fun to compare the artwork within the volume (the original and the added).

The last edition, in 1965, included multicultural characters, but they were very Caucasian looking children who just happened to have dark skin (no multi-cultural facial characteristics). The publishers received a lot of criticism for this. There were many nationalities presented in the 1965 series; they all looked Caucasian except for skin color. This was the last edition to appear with the Dick and Jane characters.

The Dick and Jane characters go through level 2-1 of the New Basic Readers Series, Curriculum Foundation Series. Any book from the Curriculum Foundation Series which is offered for auction but is of a higher reading level than level 2-1 can rightfully be referred to as “of the Dick and Jane series”, but they are not specifically “Dick and Jane” books.

There were many school primers and early readers from the 1950’s/60’s era which had children in them who were named Dick and Jane. This was because the original readers had made those names so popular. However, these are not the bonefide “Dick and Jane” books that the babyboomers are searching for. These are simply second-string (or, many cases, third or fourth-string) readers using identical names.Often, the people offering these for auction really don’t know the difference, sometimes they are deliberately trying to deceive. The end result is the same however, a purchase of a school reader which is not the reader the bidder is hunting for.

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