Alice and Jerry were my best friends. They taught me to read.
Back in the 50s, when I was first going to school, it wasn't considered proper for students to start reading actual books. It was the day of the basal reader, and by far the best-known reader was the Dick and Jane series from the publisher Scott, Foresman. But there were others, and my school chose Alice and Jerry, from Row, Peterson and Company.
That wasn't the name of the individual books. As I researched this article, I realized that I had forgotten the individual titles. I had long since called them Alice and Jerry.
Like Dick and Jane, Alice and Jerry were brother and sister, along with their dog, Jip.* I do remember the immortal words:
"See Jip. See Jip jump."What impressed me about the books at the time was that they were interconnected. Of course the early ones were just a series of stories about the two,** but as things advanced, the connections were less obvious. Toward the end, you'd be reading all year about some pioneers on the prairie, and discover that they were Alice and Jerry's great grandparents.
The books were usually written by Mabel O'Donnell, with art by Florence and Margaret Hoopes. Obviously, they weren't great literature or art, but there was something about the first day of school when you'd find the new books there like familiar friends.
The series was discontinued in the early 60s, as the reading instruction switched away from basal readers,*** and Row, Peterson joined Harper Brothers to become Harper and Row and now HarperCollins. Alice and Jerry seem to have been overlooked while Dick and Jane became a catchword.
* Even in first grade, I thought that "Jip" was a stupid name for a dog. Addendum 11/6/13: For those wondering why the dog had that name, it turns out that there was a dog in Dicken's David Copperfield named "Jip" -- short for "Gypsy."
**Typical American kids, if you assume all Americans were white and middle class. Since I was, it seemed reasonable at the time.
***There was an uproar about US reading levels, centered around Rudolf Flesch's book Why Johnny Can't Read from 1955. Flesch blamed the readers -- and their "see and say" method of instructions -- as being inferior to teaching phonics. Like all educational theories, the truth lies in between: some children do better with phonics, and some do better with "see and say" (and some do better with some other method).