Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #2

dick and jane

If you learned to read at school in the U.S., sometime from the 1940’s to the 1960’s, there’s a good chance that you learned with the help of Dick and Jane, their little sister, Sally, and the pets, Puff and Spot. By today’s standards of instructional materials for reading, this basal series was quite dry and some might say boring. I loved those books in my first years of school, mainly because…I WAS READING!

Dick and Jane pages

Fast forward many decades, when I trained to become a teacher and landed my first elementary position in Michigan. Although we still used a basal series in fourth grade, that year, it was packed with “real literature” and was supplemented with sets of award-winning chapter books, in addition. By the time I served as a Chapter I reading teacher in North Carolina and later taught kindergarten back in Michigan, sets of charming leveled books (like “Mrs. Wishy-Washy“) had replaced all basals. Reading instruction methods, assessment, and progress tracking had been fine-tuned, as well.

During my years of teaching and even after I retired, collecting vintage children’s readers was a hobby that I enjoyed immensely. Many of those 30+ books were the Dick and Jane variety, while some featured other children, pets, and retold folk literature. I had a few favorites, like the cover that’s pictured above, which I can actually remember from childhood. I had read an article, once, that revealed the Dick and Jane characters originally were a part of other collections before they appeared in their “own series”. These early books were known to be quite the collectors’ items and sometimes brought hundreds of dollars. I stored this information in the back of my mind, but didn’t really remember the details.

One day, as fate would have it, I was looking through shelves of used books in a little shop near St. Louis, Michigan. I picked up an old school reader that was in pretty rough shape. My heart started beating a little faster, since the Elson-Gray name on the scarred cover rang a bell. I leafed through the book, being careful not to tear the somewhat brittle pages any more than they already were…Billy and Nancy, Alice and Ned, DICK AND JANE!!!

pages inside oldest Dick and Jane

I tried not to be too overjoyed, since I couldn’t tell if the price penciled near the front of the book said $2.00 or $200. Yes, I really wanted that 1936 edition, but it wasn’t in great shape, and I’ve never spent that much money on a book in my life. Holding my breath, I walked up to the counter. Luck was with me that day, and I still have the receipt for $2.12, with tax.

When I moved from Michigan to Texas a few years ago, I was forced to dramatically cut back on the books that I would pay to ship, since I had collected many different types, over the years. As an end result, I saved just five of my children’s readers, including three regular Dick and Jane books and this very special precursor of what they would later become. I’ll treasure it forever, along with the memory of that day.

oldest Dick and Jane

I’d love to hear from you in comments if you learned to read with Dick and Jane, or if you would just like to share a memory about learning to read!



54 thoughts on “Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #2

  1. I learned to read with Dick and Jane books. I searched used book stores and found one for my children and taught them with it too. I loaned it to a friend for her children and she never gave it back. She is not a friend anymore.

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  2. I can’t remember exactly what readers I had in the early school grades, but I know I read them in just a couple of days, even though they were intended to take much longer to get through. Back then, it wasn’t “too many books, so little time.” More the reverse. Those were the days…

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  3. My early readers were Janet and John, though now I come to think of it I don’t recall feeling much afffinity with the fictional Janet as I didn’t have a garden, dog or a brother I could play with ( only a baby ). We also had other readers which I thought were very silly, such as Chicken Licken. At home my favourite was Noddy.

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    1. Interesting how we are drawn in by certain books and characters, while others don’t appeal. I guess that’s part of the magic of reading. I’m assuming that Noddy is what my search is showing up as written by Enid Blyton? I’ve read several of her books for older children, but don’t know anything about this character. Thanks for joining the conversation, Janet!

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  4. Noddy is one of Enid Blyton’s most famous characters for little children and he lived in Toy Town – with good friends and some disreputable characters. Apparently my favourite was Noddy Goes To The Seaside – perhaps the start of my love of the sea!

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  5. I am so happy for you. Every time you find a treasure that fills your heart with joy…the world is a better place. I read the Dick and Jane books. My favorite book, as a child, THE SECRET GARDEN. Love it still. Lovely post.

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  6. I, too, learned to read with Dick and Jane along with some other children’s books. When I was in kindergarten, I got a severe ear infection and could barely hear. I had to stay home from school for a few weeks. During that time, my father taught me to read! Nice for me and for my parents, but not so much for my teacher. When I returned to school, I sat next to her one day at circle time while she was reading a story. When she decided to skip a few words to move the story along, I noticed it and pointed out that she had missed some words!! She was not pleased, and my parents explained that it wasn’t polite to point out teacher’s errors. When I later became a teacher, I also used the Dick and Jane readers in my early years of teaching first grade, and I used them with my granddaughters several years ago. I have a magnetized replica of a Dick and Jane reader page on my fridge because I’m such a fan! Thanks for bringing back these great memories.

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    1. What interesting memories connected to Dick and Jane! I love your funny story about kindergarten. As a teacher, I had several strong readers in a few of my kindergarten classes. They never corrected me if I changed the words a bit, but did give me funny looks a few times:)


  7. Dick and Jane…oh the memories! I can still picture opening those little readers and discovering the magic of those printed pages (reading) in Mrs. Wilson’s class at Horace Mann Elementary School in San Jose, CA. 🙂 Thanks for the memories, Becky!

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      1. Pretty sure we did! I thought we had the hardback books that we read, and the paperwork books to write in? But I’m known for a terrible memory. Still, I do remember that our teacher had a giant Dick and Jane book that she would read to us from and we could see the words. And I remember the first time it “clicked” and I was really reading. I was so excited! And thrilled to be able to read the regular books on my own.

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  8. Oh yeah. I am flashing back to my reading circle and listening to John methodically working on each word he read out loud. I liked Puff antics. Spot? Not so much, even if he was a cute dog. Couldn’t figure out Ellen’s name no matter how I looked at it.

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  9. Wow, what an incredible find!! I love everything about this story – was captivated the whole time. While I’m not too familiar with the Dick & Jane reader, I LOVE to read. (My mom used to bring my brother and I to libraries every week when I was growing up.) Thank you for this inspirational post. Blessings, ❤

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  10. In Australia, we had ‘John and Betty’. Their pets were Scotty, a little black dog that was John’s, and Fluff, a grey cat that was Betty’s. I think they were lifted from the UK editions, but the illustrations and text were almost identical to yours. We also had ‘Dick and Dora’ whose pets were Nip and Fluff. Looking back they were very boring, but, like you, I adored the fact I could read them. Thanks for sharing.
    PS. I still have most of my readers and collect them whenever I see them. I also have my Mum’s first reader, first published in 1928 (she would have used it in 1935).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So fun to find out about your similar types of readers in Australia, Marie. It’s also great to hear from another collector; you’ve certainly got me beat with your mother’s 1928 book, which is so awesome!


  11. And Puff and Spot….if this didn’t take me back! Being military kids, Dick and Jane were about the only constants in our young lives — the only friends we never lost track of, who were always waiting there for us at the next school with adventures we could share or envy….Thank you for the remembrance of those early years! I’d almost forgotten how important those “kids” were to have waiting for us at every new post…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. a wonderful post; I grew up in the Fifties in Australia and I really can’t remember what Readers we had; I do know very early on I really got into ‘Jimmy and the Little Red Engine’ series 🙂 it is good to give our memories a romp on the page now and then 🙂

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