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 books were based on a series published by Row Peterson and Company as the Alice and Jerry books in the United States. Alice and Jerry was written by Mabel O'Donnell and the stories were illustrated by Florence and Margaret Hoopes. In 1949 United Kingdom publishers James Nisbet and Company licensed them and had them Anglicised by Mabel O'Donnell and Rona Munro to make a UK series of four books called Janet and John. The Janet and John books used the same artwork as the Alice and Jerry books but completely new text was written by Munro, originally a New Zealander. Also in 1949 a New Zealand series of seven books was released by Nisbet and used as a textbook in New Zealand primary schools.
Heyday - the 50s and 60s
The books became hugely popular and influential in the teaching of schoolchildren throughout the 1950s and 1960s. This was one of the first popular "look-and-say" reading schemes and, as such, introduced the less regular "Key words" at an earlier stage of reading than the phonics schemes.
Janet and John were portrayed as average English children, living a typical middle-class life that reinforced many of the stereotypes of the time, and the books consisted of stories that progressively incorporated key words needed in the development of reading skills:
- Out and About, 1949
- Off to Play, 1949
- I Know a Story, 1949
- Once Upon a Time, 1951
- Snow-White and Red-Rose, 1951
Decline - the 70s
By the 1970s, Janet and John’s straightforward and simple world was seen as being outdated and the books fell out of favour as did an updated version Kathy and Mark which used the same vocabulary, merely changing the names and illustrations in the books.
Revival - the 2000s
The Janet and John copyright was sold to StarKids, who rewrote the material. Alison Bierrum and Elizabeth Mackenzie-Wood the daughters of Rona Munro, who had nothing to do with the StarKids version, were appalled by them. The series was revamped in 2001 by Bierrum and MacKenzie-Wood, 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 a more culturally diverse cast of characters and contemporary styles of dress. These were produced and illustrated by Tandem Design, based in Southampton.
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 stories were written by regular listener and contributor Kevin Joslin, going under the pseudonym of "Mick Sturbs". The stories recount 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 was portrayed as a simpleton and fop whose adventures landed him in hot water with Janet as they always contained heavy doses of innuendo and often resulted in Terry, John and Traffic Totty Lynn Bowles dissolving into uncontrollable laughter.
- Else, Anne (2000). Up the Garden Path: Janet and John Revisited in A Book in the Hand: Essays on the History of the Book in New Zealand. Auckland University Press.
- "Out And About (The Janet and John Books) by O'Donnell, Munro & Warwick: James Nisbet and Co Ltd Softcover - World of Rare Books". www.abebooks.co.uk (in en_GB). Retrieved 2017-02-02.
- Parkinson, Justin (2 February 2016). "Terry Wogan: The art of innuendo in Janet and John". BBC News Magazine. Retrieved 3 February 2016.