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Dick and Jane were 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 1970s in the United States. There is controversy as to plagiarism of another work, however, with Gray accused of copying Fred Schonell's similar Dick and Dora readers found in his Happy Venture Playbooks. There is another claim to the development of the Dick and Jane readers and 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 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 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 totally 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.
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.
Black characters and characters from other races and cultures were not introduced until 1965, when Dick and Jane books were already declining in popularity. In 1955, Rudolf Flesch criticized the Dick and Jane series in his book, Why Johnny Can't Read, and the push for multiculturalism, and stronger presentation of other races and cultures was partially a reaction to the cultural homogeneity of the series. Harold Henderson provides an alternative explanation of the failures of "Dick and Jane" in Let's Kill Dick and Jane; the series focused on trivial aspects of reading and left children far behind their peers in Europe.
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 (USA) 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 catch phrases like "See Spot run!"
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.
An experimental ITA (phonetic alphabet) version was launched of the multi-ethnic series in the 1960s as well.
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. 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.