Key Words Reading Scheme

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Peter and Jane Book 1a Play with Us.
Original 1964 front cover, illustrated by Harry Wingfield
Peter and Jane Book 1a Play with Us, ISBN 1-84422-360-4.
Current edition, with cover styling updated in 2004 and the more contemporary late 1970s underlying artwork

The Key Words Reading Scheme is a series of 36 English language early readers children's books, published by the British publishing company, Ladybird Books. The series are also often referred to as Peter and Jane, the names of the main characters.

The first book in the series, Ladybird series 641, was published in 1964, and the series was completed by the first publication of the 36th book in 1967. Over 80 million books in the series have been sold worldwide, and the books remain in print in 2012.

The books were designed as materials for teaching a small child to learn to read, using a system of key phrases and words devised by teacher William Murray. Murray was an educational adviser at a borstal and later headmaster of a "school for the educationally subnormal" in Cheltenham. From research undertaken in the 1950s by Murray with Professor Joe McNally, an educational psychologist at Manchester University, Murray realised that only 12 words account for ¼[clarification needed], 100 words account for ½, and 300 words account for ¾, of the words used in normal speaking, reading and writing in the English language.

Starting with book 1a, a budding reader of primary school age, from 3 to 5 year old, is introduced to brother and sister Peter and Jane, their dog Pat, their Mummy and Daddy, and their home, toys, playground, the beach, shops, buses and trains, and so on. The first book uses the 12 key words which are used repeatedly ("Here is Peter", "Peter is here", "Here is Jane", "Jane is here", "I like Peter", "I like Jane"). Additional words are introduced gradually, page by page, to expand the reader's reading vocabulary, with the new words on each page set out in a footnote. The reader can consolidate their learning with books 1b, or practise writing in book 1c, all with the same vocabulary; or progress to book 2a (and 2b and 2c), and so on, with 12 sets of three books in all.

All of the books are small, thin hardback volumes with 56 pages, measuring 112×170 mm. Each book has text on a left page and an illustration on the facing right page, drawn by artists Harry Wingfield, Martin Aitchison, Frank Hampson, Robert Ayton and John Berry. The illustrations vary in style from book to book, depending on artist, but Peter and Jane are recognisable throughout. The clear sans serif typeface used in the books starts at a large size and gradually becomes smaller as the reader progresses through the series. The sentence structure also becomes gradually more complex.

The books were first published in 1964, with a firmly 1950s feel to the illustrations provided by the furniture and clothing depicted, and the social context reflecting the life of a white, middle-class family. The books were revised and updated in 1970, and again in the late 1970s, to reflect changes in fashions and in social attitudes. For example, golliwogs were airbrushed out; Daddy takes a more active domestic role; and Jane moved out of skirts and dresses into jeans, and abandoned her dolly for rollerskates. However, it remains notable how often Peter goes out to help Daddy, or actively plays with a ball, for example, while Jane stays at home to help Mummy, passively watches Peter, or plays with her doll.

Few changes have been made to the books since the 1970s, and they may be considered a source of social history. The books make use of the whole word or "look and say" technique which is generally considered outmoded as a method of reading education when not used in conjunction with phonics. Nevertheless, the books remain on sale in 2013, priced relatively cheaply at around £2.99 per book.

In some Asian countries, particularly those which are also part of the British Commonwealth, the books are still widely used as a teaching aid in nurseries, preschools and kindergartens.

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