From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Alice and Jerry Readers

Favorite series of reading books remembered



When I was a child, I loved the Alice and Jerry readers. They were published by Row, Peterson and Company of Evanston, Illinois, and Elmsford, New York .

We didn't use that series in reading class, but we had old copies of the readers on our library shelf and we read them for fun. In particular, I loved Through the Green Gate, Friendly Village, Singing Wheels, and Engine Whistles. There were other books in the series, but I remember these four most vividly. I don't think we probably had all of the others; we were just a little one-room country school with a limited budget.

Over the years, I have found two copies of Singing Wheels and one copy each of Engine Whistles and Friendly Village at garage sales and thrift shops. Keely and Isaac read them, and they loved them! I want them each to have their own copies when I am dead and gone, so I may have to break down and buy another Engine Whistles and Friendly Village on eBay. I think the price there will probably be more than I paid for the four books I already own because the series is quite collectible.

I guess my kids will get along without Through the Green Gate. They didn't read it when they were little, so the stories won't be as excited now that they're grown up and jaded. Still, here's what "ImNpieces@aol.com" wrote on an internet forum about books:

I remember what grade I was in, the 3rd, and the reading book was called "Through the Green Gate," one of the Alice and Jerry books that were used in our schools back then. I loved it so much, that at the end of the school year, I said that I lost the book so I could pay for it and keep it. That was in 1947, and I still have the book. That is the first book that I remember being so attached to that I could not bear the thought of being separated from it.

Modern reading texts are a hodge-podge of stories, poems, plays, and so on, drawn from every culture imaginable. The Alice and Jerry books taught children to read through interesting stories about American children in authentic, historic settings. In the four Alice and Jerry readers I know best, each chapter in the book continues the story from previous chapters. The books follow a group of children through a year (or thereabouts) of their life.

Mabel O'Donnell, author of the series, was an elementary supervisor in Aurora, Illinois (according to Barbara Peck who posted a nostalgic article about Singing Wheels at Rootsweb). Ms. O'Donnell's great-nephew, Jim O'Donnell wrote to me that she "loved to read, to write, and to teach." (email, October 14, 2009). A little more infomation about her is included in the comments of an article about the art in Through the Green Gate.

In the two books, Singing Wheels and Engine Whistles, the main character was named Tom Hastings. Singing Wheels was about the first Tom who lived in a log house. In addition to the colored illustrations, many of the pages had black and white drawings of tools, utensils, etc. used in pioneer life. Each story was about some different activity--butchering, cutting ice, spelldowns at school, and so on.

In Engine Whistles, the first Tom had grown up, married, and now had a son named Tom Hastings who was the new main character. The setting was a small town in the days of steam engines and early automobiles -- perhaps about 1900. I liked that book a lot, but not as well as I liked Singing Wheels.

I am sure that today these books would be considered culturally biased. They're about people with white skin, except for a few stories that have Indians (now, a politically incorrect term) in them. I didn't think about the racial mix of the characters when I was a child. I just enjoyed the wonderful stories.

Updated June 9, 2010. If you happen to find dead links in this article, please let me know. Thanks!

1 comment:

Regina said...

Genevieve,
I too read the Alice and Jerry books in grade school. I loved them, and still do. I have a small collection of them. I still enjoy looking through them, and reading a story or two from time to time.
I have a friend who owns a copy of each book published in every year they were re-released.
You can find a lot of them on E-bay, and other places on the internet, to buy.
I started collecting them years ago, and love adding to my collection from time to time.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.