The Letter People
Elayne Reiss-Weimann and Rita Friedman originally created the concept of Letter People to teach beginning readers how to "decode" or "sound out" the consonants and vowels that form words. They embodied the basic rules of phonics into stories about these make-believe characters called Letter People. Each letter of the alphabet had a distinct characteristic to help children learn not only the letter but the sound the letter represents in the written word. For example, Mr. N has a Noisy Nose or Mr. T has Tall Teeth. Reiss and Friedman developed the concept as teachers in Nanuet, New York. They later sold the idea to New Dimensions in Education, Inc. which, in turn, developed the concept into classroom programs called Alpha Time and Alpha One. The inflatable, child-sized characters became commonly known as "The Huggables", (see Life Magazine, May 12, 1972) because they were large enough for small children to hug. Eventually, Alan J. Pratt, Ph.D., a director and vice-president of NDE, Inc. approached KETC-TV, a PBS affiliate in St. Louis, MO about creating a TV series based on the escapades of the Letter People. After five pilot programs were produced, Dr. Pratt approached the Council of Great City Schools (the 20 largest school districts in the Country.) Eventually, with the cooperation of the superintendents of the Council, NDE, Inc. and KETC-TV a joint venture commenced. The series comprised 60, 15-minute episodes that became extremely popular with children nationwide who were learning to read. To insure phonetic and linguistic accuracy in the television production process, Ruth Lerner from NDE served as the Editorial Supervisor. Alan Pratt, Ph.D. was the Curriculum Consultant for the TV series. Prior to this, The Letter People educational products were copyrighted in 1968 and published by New Dimensions in Education, Inc. (located in Plainview, New York and later Norwalk, Connecticut.).NDE hired Elizabeth Callen to design the look of the characters in the classroom programs. Tom McDonough of KETC-TV was writer-director of the television series. The Letter People still has thousands of adult fans who remember learning how much fun it was learning to read with the help of The Letter People.
The program's basic concept was simple: Each letter of the English alphabet was represented by a unique character with traits derived from itself. The consonants were male(, as "the Letter Boys",) and the vowels were female(, as "the Letter Girls"). Reiss-Weimann, Friedman and Callen also wrote two series of books about the characters, Fables from the Letter People and Read-to-Me. Each Letter Person also had an accompanying song (available on 8-track cartridge and vinyl record), and inflatable vinyl effigies in two sizes (12-14 inches or 30-inch "life-size") known as a "Huggables". Other merchandise included filmstrips and flash cards. Educators who adopted the program were trained in its implementation, and The Letter People was soon picked up by hundreds of schools across the United States.
A little dog is minding his own business when various figures (one carrying a bunch of helium balloons) enter the gates of a place called Letter People Land as the song plays:
Come and meet the Letter People
Come and visit the family
Words are made of Letter People
A, B, C, D, follow me!
While thousands of children were learning about the Letter People in school, thousands of others were being exposed to them through the television series based on the program. The show was produced by PBS member station KETC in St. Louis, Missouri, and the show first went into production in 1972. The show was extremely popular with children, and it quickly spread to other television stations across the country, via syndication, mainly to PBS and educational stations.
The Letter People consists of 60 episodes. In each 15-minute installment, the Letter People (relatively primitive puppets) undertake various adventures in Letter People Land, a dark, featureless place populated by strange people and creatures. Episodes usually focus on introducing new Letter People or new sounds formed by combining two Letter People together (such as /CH/ or /OU/). Other episodes take the Letter People to more exotic (though still featureless) locales such as outer space (eventually, the show would include more standard scenery, like cityscapes, meadows, Miss O's opera house, etc.), while a few highlight the characters' conflicts over various sounds (such as Mr. C fighting Mr. K and Mr. S for his sound). Another common feature of the show is "the Catching Game", a game show hosted by Monty Swell (a character based on Monty Hall) where the Letter People must form words by positioning themselves correctly side-by-side.
The show has aired almost continuously since 1972.
- Meet Mister M
- Meet Mister T
- Meet Mister F
- Meet Mister H
- Meet Mister N
- Meet Mister B
- Meet Miss A
- What's the Catch?
- The Tryout
- The Catching Game
- Meet Mister Z
- Meet Mister P
- Meet Mister S
- Meet Miss E
- Meet Miss I
- Meet Miss O
- Meet Miss U
- Meet Mister V
- Meet Mister L
- The Story of Mister V; The Story of Mister S
- The Squoosh
- Meet Mister D
- Meet Mister G
- Meet Mister C
- Meet Mister K
- The Story of Mister C and Mister K; Soft C
- Meet Mister W
- Long Vowel Sounds
- Cooperation (Silent E)
- Adjacent Vowels (Two Vowels Standing Side-by-Side)
- Review I
- Review II
- Review III
- Review IV
- Meet Mister Y
- Y as a Consonant and a Vowel
- Meet Mister J
- Soft G
- Meet Mister R
- Star Trip, part I (AR)
- Star Trip, part II (OR)
- Star Trip, part III (ER, IR, UR)
- Review V
- Meet Mister X
- Meet Mister Q
- The Word Machine
- Chewy Cherry Choo Choo (CH)
- The Thing (TH)
- WH and SH
- Review VI
- The [I]NG Sound, part I
- The [I]NG Sound, part II
- Words in Parts, part I
- Words in Parts, part II
- OU and OW
- OI and OY
- Double O (OO)
- AU and AW
- Sentences, part I
- Sentences, part II
In 1990, Abrams & Co. Publishers Inc. of Austin, Texas bought the rights to The Letter People from the previous owner, Norwalk, Connecticut-based New Dimensions in Education, Inc. The company gave the program a major facelift, updating and revising it. They first of all changed the look of the characters and the associated materials. For example, lowercase letters were added to the back of each Letter Person (previously they had been placed on each character somewhat randomly). In 1996 the Abrams Company also made sweeping changes to over half of the Letter People themselves, most obviously equalizing the proportion of male to female characters (vowels are now distinguished by their ability to light up via "LetterLights," which appear as yellow suns on their right shoulders). The men also changed from "Mister" to "Mr.", the women also changed from "Miss" to "Ms.", and all references to "junk food" were swapped for non-food-related characteristics (Mr. D's "delicious donuts" were exchanged for "dazzling dance", for example). In addition, any Letter People that Abrams deemed as expressing negative images were changed to be more positive (Mr. H's horrible hair became happy hair instead, while Mr. X is no longer all wrong (mixed-up), he's "different"). The Letter People storybooks were rewritten with an eye toward teaching conflict resolution and problem solving skills.
The current program is divided into three levels with increasing emphasis on phonics: Let's Begin with the Letter People for preschool, Land of the Letter People for kindergarten, and Lives of the Letter People for first grade. The program is currently taught to about 30 million children.
Though the program is generally well received by educators, some have criticized its strong focus on phonics at the expense of other literacy-building techniques. Others object to the new program more from a sense of nostalgia; those raised on the original version often complain that the new Letter People are too concerned with being politically correct to be fun.
Place where the Letter People live
In the original program in 1974, the place where the Letter People live is "Letter People Land." In the revised program in 1990, the place where the Letter People live is the "Land of the Letter People." In the newly revised program in 1996, the place where the Letter People live, "Land of the Letter People," remained the same but utilized the newer version of the characters.
List of Letter People
|Original Program (1974)||Characteristic||Revised Program (1996)||Characteristic|
|Miss A||A'choo||Ms. A||A'choo|
|Mister B||Beautiful Buttons||Mr. B||Beautiful Buttons|
|Mister C||Cotton Candy||Mr. C||Colossal Cap|
|Mister D||Delicious Doughnuts||Mr. D||Dazzling Dance|
|Miss E||Exercise||Ms. E||Exercise Energy|
|Mister F||Funny Feet||Ms. F||Funny Feet|
|Mister G||Gooey Gum||Mr. G||Gooey Gum|
|Mister H||Horrible Hair||Mr. H||Happy Hair|
|Miss I*||(Itchy Itch) Incredible Inventor||Mr. I||Impossible Inches|
|Mister J||Jumbled Junk||Ms. J||Jingle Jingle Jacket|
|Mister K||Kind Kick||Ms. K||Kaboom Kick|
|Mister L||Lemon Lollipops||Ms. L||Longest Laugh|
|Mister M||Munching Mouth||Mr. M||Munching Mouth|
|Mister N||Noisy Nose||Mr. N||Noisy Nose|
|Miss O*||(Obstinate) Optimistic Optimist||Mr. O||Opposite|
|Mister P||Pointy Patches||Ms. P||Pointy Patches|
|Mister Q||Quiet||Mr. Q*||[Quiet] Questions|
|Mister R||Ripping Rubberbands||Mr. R||Rainbow Ribbons|
|Mister S||Super Socks||Ms. S||Super Socks|
|Mister T||Tall Teeth||Ms. T||Tall Teeth|
|Miss U||Upsy-Daisy Umbrella||Ms. U||Unusual Umbrella|
|Mister V||Violet Velvet Vest||Ms. V||Vegetable Vest|
|Mister W||Wonderful Wink||Ms. W||Wonderful Words|
|Mister X||MiXed Up/All Wrong||Mr. X||Different|
|Mister Y||Yawning||Ms. Y||Yodeling Yawn|
|Mister Z||Zipping Zippers||Mr. Z||Zipping Zippers|
- Note: The characteristics of Miss I and Miss O changed after The Letter People television series entered production. Therefore, they are known by the names in parentheses on that program.
- Note: The characteristics of Mr. Q changed from "Quiet Questions" to just "Questions" to teach children that keeping your questions "quiet" will not answer them.
- King Hall - Head Puppeteer
- Allan Trautman - Puppeteer
- Gregg Berger - Mr. Z (voice)
- Patrick Clear - Mr. J, Mr. H, Mr. R, various (voices)
- Joneal Joplin - Mr. S and Mr. G (voices)
Legacy and Fan-Made TV Series Remake
The Letter People have gained a cult following, mostly from the people who grew up with it in school or the people who watched the TV series. On May 1, 2015 a fan revival was announced under the title Letter People Land. It is made with puppets like the original, but with a more Muppet looking style and instead of making sets, they green screen them onto backgrounds.