Aug 12, 2017
One of the items that Made its way down to AZ after our Summer trip was a 1963 Edition of a Reader published by Houghton Mifflin. It was first published in 1949. Reading it again brought back so many memories from my early years in school.
Back in the day, our little three room school used the Dick and Jane readers by Scott Foresman. It is also true that I was not always the compliant, model student. Because of that wayward gene in my DNA, I was often banished to the janitor’s room in an effort to gain my complacency.
These episodes sometimes lasted for an hour or so. But fear not, my teacher was never cruel… he just wanted me out of his sight until he could regain self control. To me it was a blessing, for in that 6’ x 8’ room with shelves to the ceiling, I discovered all the Teacher’s Editions. Of course my favorites were the reading books. Not just for the readers currently in use, but those that were not used.
One of the things that irked me in the upper grades was the fact that about one fourth of our reading books had been physically cut out. No one seemed to know what was taken out…. but after so many hours in that storeroom, I, little scrawny, Donnybud, knew what was missing! It was a world of make believe. Fairy Tales, Myths and all sorts of forbidden knowledge was missing. I lapped up these stories like a kitten who is all over a saucer of warm milk.
You see, in our little church related school, if it wasn’t “true,” then we had no business reading it, no matter how moral the stories were. Which didn’t make a lot of sense to me… then or now. After all, were the stories of Dick and Jane, or as with the Primer in my hands, Jack and Janet, any more “true” than the Fairy Tales that we couldn’t read in the upper grades?
Anyway, putting that aside, it strikes me now rather oddly why none of the books were titled Janet and Jack or Jane and Dick. Why were the boys listed first in BOTH book titles?
Another observation. It seems that air-headed blonds are portrayed that way from a very young age, as in the little sister of Jack and Janet. The book opens with Mother looking for Janet to send to the store for some milk. She sees Penny first and asks her to find Janet and give her the short grocery list of milk.
Penny can’t find her sister, so she decides to go to the store on her own. Handing the list to the store clerk in a store the likes of which you’ve never seen, he gets the milk for her. The family must have an account at the store for there is no exchange of money.
On the way home she gets distracted, typical blonde, lays down the milk and her doll to console her kitten named Mitten. They set off for home with Penny forgetting to pick up her doll and the milk. Then on page 17 we find Mother, dressed with her petticoat on the outside of her dress, meeting Penny at the door and asking, Where is the milk?”
At this point, Penny, who is wondering where on earth the milk could have left her possession, looks around and spots Janet, her raven-haired smart sister coming up the sidewalk carrying her doll and the missing milk.
On page 79 begins a strange story of make-believe wherein Penny tries to convince the rest of her family that she is a rabbit. She manages to get out of doing some simple chores. She even refuses to help Daddy bring the groceries in out of the car.
So, Daddy gets a big wooden box to make her a bed outside on the porch while Mother brings her a carrot for supper. On page 95 we learn the truth. It’s not really much fun to be a pretend rabbit.
One day Mother makes a batch off cookies, but they start disappearing before Penny gets hers. They argue in that stilted, limited, Primer vocabulary about who might be taking the cookies. So, without using the actual words, they set a trap to find out if it was Tip or Mitten the kitten who is the thief. On page 112 we find that it was NOT Tip!
When it is time for Jack’s birthday celebration, we find the sexual stereotypes of the 1940’s and 50’s. We learned that there are toys that are just for boys and toys just for girls. Twenty-eight pages are devoted to finding just the right gift… one that is for a boy, not one that the girls would like. Then Jack and his male friends end up loosing the box kite that Janet has purchased for him. It was found by Janet and her friend, Dot. They succeed in launching the kite with just the short broken string that is attached… without using those words.
Daddy, who is WALKING home from work, catches them with the kite. The girls explain that the kite string is broken, but they would like to try flying it. Daddy, being the good guy that he is, despite the fact that he is wearing a fedora, gets some string for the girls.
Daddy, on page 162, removes his fedora in shame, wondering just what kind of girls he is raising when they insist on showing the boys how to successfully fly a boys kite.
The girls explain to the guys that, since the box kite got away from them and the girls got it flying, it is now theirs to keep.
Come on girls!
Come on authors!
It’s REALLY OK to take back a gift that you’ve given someone just because they lost it? And why is it OK to be playing with a boy’s toy when just a few pages before you were teaching us that there are toys just for boys and toys just for girls?
When my grand children were small there were books like Ted Has Two Mommies, and people complained that the schools were changing the mores of the next generation. They most certainly were and are, but was instilling the myth that mothers stayed at home cleaning, baking and wearing an apron, while father walked to and from work carrying a newspaper and wearing a suit and fedora any better?
The play and toys of boys and girls were so well defined back then! It wasn’t that many years later that women were astronauts, scientists, doctors and mathematicians. Hardly any mothers today do only housework. Most work outside the home and still find time to bear children and pay someone else to raise them.
I don’t know, maybe the Primers back-in-the-day, were more a snippet of how it was, rather than teaching what life should be like. Has life changed so dramatically because of what we read as a child? Or did we change, so our reading evolved with us?
Were we really not that good at learning the things that were so subtlety taught while we were learning to navigate the printed word?
I will soon publish a link to the entire book so that you can review 151 new words of your very own Primer vocabulary and enjoy the trip down Memory Lane in its entirety.
What do you think? Comment below.