Janet and John

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Janet and John are the main characters in a series of reading books for children aged 4–7 years.


Originally, these stories were published by Row Peterson and Company as the Alice and Jerry books in the USA. Alice and Jerry was written by Mabel O'Donnell. The Janet and John books were written by Rona Munro, and had no basis in the Alice and Jerry books, merely using the same artwork. In 1949 United Kingdom publishers James Nisbet and Company licensed them and had them Anglicised by Mabel O'Donnell and Rona Munro, originally from New Zealand, to make a UK series of four books called Janet and John and they became hugely popular and influential in the teaching of schoolchildren throughout the 1950s and 1960s.[1] Also in 1949 a New Zealand series of seven books was released by Nisbet and used as a textbook in New Zealand primary schools. This was one of the first popular "look-and-say" reading schemes and, as such, introduced the less regular "Key words" at an early stage of reading than the phonic schemes.[2]

Janet and John were portrayed as average English children, living a typical middle-class life, and the books consisted of stories that progressively incorporated key words needed in the development of reading skills.

The stories were illustrated by Florence and Margaret Hoopes.

By the 1970s, Janet and John’s straightforward and simple world was seen as being outdated and the books fell out of favour as did the updated version Kathy and Mark which used the same vocabulary merely changing the names and illustrations in the books.


The Janet and John copyright was sold to StarKids, who rewrote the material. Alison Bierrum and Elizabeth Mackenzie-Wood had nothing to do with the StarKids version, and were appalled by them. The series was revamped in 2001[3] by Alison Bierrum and Elizabeth MacKenzie-Wood, the daughters of Rona Munro and released by publishers StarKids with Janet and John given a totally new appearance. The new series of 33 books featured modern themes, the inclusion of ethnic minority characters and contemporary styles of dress.

In September 2007, Summersdale Publishers reissued the first two Janet and John books, Here We Go and Off to Play, exactly as they were first published in 1949, except with hardcovers as they were primarily intended as nostalgia gifts for those who learned to read with these books.


The radio and television broadcaster Terry Wogan regularly satirised the series on his BBC Radio 2 show Wake Up To Wogan by reading out stories clearly based on the premise of the original Janet and John books, but deriving humour through euphemism and innuendo. Despite the obvious implied meaning, the stories' true meanings were never discussed, partly because of the morning timeslot of the show when children may be listening.

The author of the stories is a frequent listener and contributor known as 'Mick Sturbs', whose real name is Kevin Joslin. The stories are based around the supposed adventures of newsreader John Marsh and his wife Janet. Five CDs of the recordings have been made available for the charity Children in Need and have raised a substantial amount of money. A book of the scripts, 'See John Run', was released in October 2009, again supporting Children in Need. John is portrayed as a simpleton and fop whose adventures land him in hot water with Janet as they always contain heavy doses of innuendo and often result in Terry, John and Traffic Totty Lynn Bowles dissolving into uncontrollable laughter.

See also[edit]