Dick and Jane
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Dick and Jane are the main characters in popular basal readers written by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp and published by Scott Foresman, that were used to teach children to read from the 1930s through to the 1960's in the United States.
The main characters, Dick and Jane, were a little boy and girl. Supporting characters included Baby (or Sally), Mother, Father, Spot (originally a cat in the 1930s, but a dog in later editions), Puff the cat, and Tim the teddy bear. They first appeared in the Elson-Gray Readers used in the 1930s, which themselves were heavily revised and enlarged editions of the Elson Readers originally produced by William H. Elson in the 1920s. The simple but distinctive illustrations for the books were done by artists Eleanor Campbell and Keith Ward. Robert Childress did the illustrations during the 1950s. Richard Wiley took over the illustrations in the 1960s, and was the first to include African American characters in the book series.
First editions of the books now fetch as much as US$200. The books were reissued in 2003 by Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Group, and over 2.5 million copies were sold, but this time the publishers had warned against using them to teach reading to children. Related merchandise, such as shirts and magnets, also gained wide popularity, particularly among people who had never been exposed to the original series, but were familiar with catchphrases like "See Spot run!".
Books published in the series
- Grade 1 – Before We Read, We Look and See, We Work and Play, We Come and Go, Guess Who, Fun with Dick and Jane and Our New Friends
- Grade 2 – Friends and Neighbors and More Friends and Neighbors
- Grade 3 – Streets and Roads, More Streets and Roads, Roads to Follow, and More Roads to Follow
- Transitional 3/4 – Just Imagine
- Grade 4 – Times and Places
- Grade 5 – Days and Deeds
- Grade 6 – People and Progress
- Grade 7 – Paths and Pathfinders; Parades
- Grade 8 – Wonders and Workers; Panoramas
- Grade 9 – Helpful in Ways
In the mid-1950s, the texts for grades four, five and six were split into two books each (as was originally the pattern with the lower grades in the series) with the naming pattern adding The New in front of the title for the first book and More in front of the title for the second book in each grade, e.g., The New Days and Deeds and More Days and Deeds.
In the late 1950s, the texts for grades seven and eight were re-packaged into a Basic Reading and Literature series consisting of Book 1 (for seventh grade) and Book 2 (for eighth grade) without any of the contents changing from the original late 1940s versions. As an alternative to this more literary approach for these two grades, entirely new texts were published with shorter, simpler readings with the titles of Parades and More Parades for the seventh grade and Panoramas and More Panoramas for the eighth grade. Focusing on targeted reading and word attack techniques, a soft-cover workbook Basic Reading Skills was published for the junior high (seventh and/or eighth grade) to be used independently much as the Think And Do books were used in conjunction with the graded texts at the elementary school level. In 1960, Wide Wide World was published for the seventh grade and held a wide range of longer literary selections from authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson and Rudyard Kipling.
In the middle 1960s, the New Basic Readers underwent heavy revision. The books had a larger page size, new updated artwork, some shortened stories from previous editions and a very large portion of new stories. Dick, Jane, and Sally also were a bit older and a bit more sophisticated. Teaching procedures also were slightly different: the vocabulary control was looser and more phonics was added. Helen M. Robinson became the head author. The earliest materials were released in 1962. The 1962 Established edition titles were: We Read Pictures, We Read More Pictures, Before We Read, Sally Dick and Jane, Fun With Our Family, Fun Wherever We Are, Guess Who, Fun With Our Friends, More Fun With Our Friends (All Grade 1), Friends Old and New, More Friends Old and New (grade 2), Roads to Follow, More Roads to Follow (grade 3), Ventures (4), Vistas (5), Cavalcades (6), Dimensions (7), Challenges (8). In 1965, an integrated edition was added as an alternative to the established editions.
This multi-ethnic edition changed the title of the 1st and 2nd pre-primers to Now We Read and Fun With the Family to reflect the addition of an African-American family. These three children were Mike, Pam, and Penny. The content of the 1962 edition was somewhat altered to include this new family in the first grade. The other books retained the 1962 titles, yet reflected numerous multi-ethnic groups for those school systems which chose this version. The 1965 edition books were available in two covers- one featuring characters as in previous books and the other a child-art edition which did not feature any characters. Many people refer to this second cover as a "fingerpaint" cover, but the Scott, Foresman catalog listed it as "child-art". The Think-and-Do Book workbooks, which began with the Elson readers of the 1930s as Silent Reading Workbooks, were still very much a part of the 1950s and both editions of the 1960s books.
In 1966 two companion series were launched from grades one through seven to provide for individual differences – Wide Horizons for advanced readers and Open Highways for below-average readers. Initially, the grades were indicated by Book 1, Book 2 and so on, but in later editions each grade had its own title in the series, e.g., Ready to Roll and Rolling Along were the Open Highways books for the first grade, Moving Ahead and More Power the books for the second grade, and Splendid Journey and Speeding Away the books for the third grade.
There were also Catholic editions of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s series. Sally, Dick, and Jane was retitled Judy, John, and Jean to reflect the characters who were renamed after Catholic Saints. Another series, published by Ginn & Co., featured characters named "David and Ann". Groups of stories in each book were replaced by Catholic-oriented stories of the saints or portrayed moral choices. Some 1960s levels also had Seventh-day Adventist versions: these versions used the 1965 multi-ethnic characters, but retitled the books. For example, Now We Read became Friends to Know, Fun Wherever We Are became Places to Know. Versions with appropriate spelling changes also were published in English in Canada by W. J. Gage. In lower grades French versions also were issued in the 1950s in Canada as well as British English versions in paperback in the UK.
The books relied on the whole word or sight word reading method (not to be confused with whole language) and repetition, using phrases like "Oh, see. Oh, see Jane. Funny, funny Jane", but they did not ignore phonics.[dubious ] Phonetic analysis was part of each reading lesson, although not to the degree one would associate with learning to read by pure phonics. For this reason, they came to be used less and less as studies supported phonics as a more effective method of gaining literacy. Texts in the primary grades emphasized Learning to Read, but in fourth grade and above the focus was Reading to Learn, with content becoming very important.
There is also another claim to the development of the Dick and Jane readers. According to the history of the Institute for Juvenile Research, psychologist Marion Monroe developed methods for early childhood reading programs, which led to the Dick and Jane Readers. Gray's main focus was to develop the Curriculum Foundation Series of books for Scott, Foresman and Company. His vision was to tie "subject area" books in health, science, social studies, and arithmetic (each discipline having its own series of graded texts also published by Scott, Foresman and Company) with the vocabulary mastered in the basic readers, thus vastly improving readability in these same areas.
The push for multiculturalism and stronger presentation of other races and cultures was partially a reaction to the cultural homogeneity of the series. Black characters and characters from other races and cultures were not introduced until 1965, when Dick and Jane books were already declining in popularity.
I have great pride in taking Dick and Jane out of most school libraries. That is my greatest satisfaction.
I learned to read in school of course and in my era you learned to read with 'readers'. They were full of the adventures of 'Dick and Jane'. Dick and Jane and their little sister Sally and their dog Spot. This was the dullest family in the history of Earth. And I couldn’t see the charm of reading about Dick and Jane. Oh boy they were boring. You know, the stories were stupid, even for a first or second grader. Years later I saw some of the famous McGuffey readers, go back further, things that my mother’s generation would read from in the 1930s or 1920s, and those things were filled with real stories from real writers that the kids were learning. But my generation, the baby boomers, we had Dick and Jane, and that couldn’t convince me to keep reading. But Batman and Superman could: they were much more interesting than Dick and Jane.
A 2006 book entitled Let's Kill Dick and Jane by Harold Henderson asserted that the series focused on trivial aspects of reading and left children far behind their peers in Europe.
In popular culture
Advertising and branding
- See Jane Work is a line of organizational products at Office Depot designed by Holly Bohn; the inspiration for the name comes from the character Jane.
- Many Target commercials featuring Target Dog included the phrase "See Spot save", a take on of the series' famous "See Spot run".
- In a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon Calvin wrote a book report titled, "The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes"
- The title of the film Fun with Dick and Jane (1977) and its 2005 remake) refers to the Grade 1 title of the book series
- One sequence of Disney's animated feature film Tarzan (1999) that is set to music features a book with a page that says, "See Jane, See Jane Run"
- Marc Gallant's illustrated parody book, More Fun with Dick and Jane (1986), shows the characters as grown-ups
- An excerpt of a Dick and Jane text is used in the opening chapter of Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye, and the text is repeated with variations throughout the book; its idyllic white suburban setting is juxtaposed with that of a black family during the Great Depression 
- The band Hawaiian Pups spoofed the characters in the song "Baby Judy", from their EP Split Second Precision (1983)
- A PBS children's television series called Between the Lions does a spoof of the books entitled Fun with Chicken Jane
- Singer Bobby Vinton recorded a song in the 1970s entitled "Dick and Jane".
- In The Simpsons episode "They Saved Lisa's Brain", the Comic Book Guy's T-shirt reads "C:/DOS C:/DOS/RUN RUN/DOS/RUN", similar to the catch phrases in the book series
- Third Rock from the Sun's two-part season 3 opening episode is titled, "Fun with Dick and Janet"; many of the show's episode titles have various references, with the names of the show's characters thrown in
- Alice and Jerry
- Ant and Bee
- Janet and John
- Janet and Mark
- Key Words Reading Scheme's Peter and Jane
- McGuffey Readers
- Mr. Mugs
- Science Research Associates
- Biography of Zerna Sharp
- Beuttler, Fred and Bell, Carl (2010). For the Welfare of Every Child – A Brief History of the Institute for Juvenile Research, 1909 – 2010. University of Illinois: Chicago
- Let's Kill Dick and Jane
- Gallant, Marc (1986). More Fun with Dick and Jane. Penguin Books.
- "The Bluest Eye Summary and Analysis". Cliffs Notes.