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Fun with Dick and Jane readers

If you went through the Victorian Public School system between 1930s and 1970s the words Dick and Jane or “See Spot Run” may conjure up sentimental feelings.

Children learning to read for the first time became familiar with the main characters in the Dick and Jane readers: children Dick and Jane, Baby Sally, Spot the dog, Puff the cat and Tim the Teddy Bear. Interestingly, Spot was originally a cat in the 1930s, but the character was changed to a dog in later editions.

The Dick and Jane readers were used to teach reading from Grade Prep. Young children practised their readers, becoming proficient and then progressed to the next book. Children proudly took them home for practise – nestled within a cardboard protector held in place with a piece of string. The method used in these books was to learn by repetition, taking in the whole word, and allowed the new reader to become comfortable with simple phrases such as ‘“Look look,” said Sally’.

William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp were the authors of the popular books and artists Eleanor Campbell and Keith Ward created the illustrations. Robert Childress took over as illustrator in the 1950s and Richard Wiley was the creator of the 1960s images.

Public Record Office Victoria has in their custody a number of the readers in the VPRS 13554 Ministerial Textbook Collection. Within this series you can find teacher curriculum books for use in State Schools. From consignments P1-P27, the units contain text books covering such subjects as: Science, History, Mathematics, Geography, English, Language, Religious, Social Studies, Readers, Spelling and Writing, Story books, Domestic Arts, Nursery Collections and Music.

This series was a former special collection of the Ministerial Library transferred to Public Record Office Victoria upon the closure by the Education History Unit in 1992. The series has a nominal start date of 1980 however it is uncertain when the Ministerial Library Textbook Collection was established. It may have started when the Department of Education was located in Nauru House, 80 Collins Street in the late 1970s. The collection was an initiative of Mr Albert Housden and employee of the Department. The Education History Unit added items to the Collection from various donors including closed schools and individual donors.

Kerry Harding, Access Services Officer

Do you remember the Dick and Jane tales? If so, tell us all about it here by making a comment.

10 comments on “Fun with Dick and Jane readers

  1. Lynda Moore on said:

    I remember the books well, being born in 1961. My younger sister has an even more interesting story about these books. In her classroom the teacher had displayed the word “flash” cards above the blackboard. My sister used to recite them in order,as they were placed, preferably as fast as she could. Funny how “SpotjumpdowngofunnyupseeJaneohTimruncomeDickSallylookPuff” still sticks in my mind 40 years on, and even now we three grown up sisters can be reduced to hysterical giggles if one of us happens to say it. Oh yes, and she became a teacher herself.

  2. Congratulations on your ‘Fun with Dick and Jane readers’ website. I am the Children’s Research Librarian at the State Library of Victoria and request permission to link to this website from our Children’s Literature Research Guide at http://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/childrensliterature

    regards,
    Juliet

    • Reading_Room on said:

      Hi Juliet

      Yes, please link to this website from your Children’s Literature Research Guide.

      Cheers

  3. Cynthia Thomas on said:

    This reminds me of the British Janet and John series of readers from the 1940s thru the fifties.
    Same type of drawing and same stilted repitition: See the boat, run John, run!
    Janet and John was also in New Zealand schools. I love the art work. I wonder if both authors knew each other?

  4. H. Rankin on said:

    I thought the characters were called John & Betty and the dog & cat called Scotty/ie & Fluff ?????

    • Leanne Hallowell on said:

      I also remember them as John and Betty. And Scotty and Fluff. Fluff had a lesser role!

  5. Belinda Rogers on said:

    Hang on. This isn’t right…. Dick and Jane were the American readers and here in Victoria the official school reader put out by the Education Department was John and Betty. And yes @ H. Rankin, it does feature Scottie the dog and Fluff the cat.
    It was illustrated by Marjorie Howden (my grandmother) and written by Betty Somerville. It first appeared in 1951 and was still in use in the 1970′s. John and Betty was the Prep reader and was followed by Playmates and Holidays. These were the official Victorian Readers of the period for the Prep, One and Two Classes and although Dick and Jane may have been used in some schools they were most definitely the American version.

    • Reading_Room on said:

      Thanks Belinda. The Dick and Jane readers are in our education collection along with the very popular John and Betty readers.

      Reading Room

  6. Margaret Crombie on said:

    Hi, Does anyone know if the John and Betty readers can still be bought anywhere. I want to try to get one for my grandson who is about to start prep.

    • Reading_Room on said:

      Good morning Margaret

      As far as we know they no longer publish these readers however you may be able to purchase them from such places as Amazon.com or the Book Depository or ebay or you are more than welcome to come into PROV and take a copy yourself.

      Kind regards
      Reading Room