When I was in the Washington state elementary school system, we had textbooks. I don’t know if budget constraints or educational philosophies killed them off, but these days my daughter comes home with photocopied pamphlets. The pamphlets contain one story that uses words the kids are working on for the week, so we have to them, but none of them have been nearly as effective as my books from Theodore Clymer.
During the early 1980s, the school system relied on this series to introduce kids to reading. What makes these books so successful is word repetition; students feel like real readers fast when they can read full sentences by the end of the first book. What makes them so entertaining is the variety of stories they contain, repeating characters, and mix of photographic and hand-drawn illustration.
They also introduced us to Ken.
Ken is the bespectled fumbler in all of the Clymer books who can’t get anything right. Here he is failing to get a sandwich:
To the amusement of everyone else:
Someone is pointing and laughing at Ken on almost every page:
With good reason. Here he is dropping a ball on his face:
He even struggles to throw away trash:
Resulting in more derision:
Here’s Ken trying to read a book. By this point, I’m surprised he doesn’t drop it on his foot.
Three Friends Find Spring by Judy Delton and Giulio Maestro Published: Crown Publishers, 1977 Pages: 32 Buy on Amazon Goodreads
I have a few books from my childhood that I’ve read to my daughter once and she’s never asked for again. One of those is Three Friends Find Spring.
This book is tough on parents because of length. There is a lot of text. By the time you’re done reading out loud you’ll need one of those throat lozenges Rabbit uses:
The illustrations are lovely, with plenty of color and character appeal, but the book’s secret weapon is sarcasm. Rabbit and Squirrel are trying to cheer Duck up about winter, with no success. Eventually they come around to Duck’s way of thinking, because Duck is right. Winter is cold, and tossing some Easter Baskets in the snow changes nothing.
Duck cheers up himself when he sees a spring flower break through the snow and realizes there’s hope for the future. The joke’s on his buddies… They went to great efforts to adjust Duck’s attitude when they should have just left him alone.
That’s where we come back to my daughter: I asked her why she didn’t like the book and she said the book was fine. She just didn’t like Duck.
Duck is critical, irritable, hard to please, and too worried about the cleanliness of his home to listen to your problems. He has enough of his own. It’s hard for my daughter to understand why Duck’s friends care to know him at all, let alone try so hard to lift his spirits. We, the adults, can think of plenty of times we’ve labored this hard for a one-sided relationship.
Pig and the Blue Flag by Carla Stevens and Rainey Bennett Published: Seabury Press, 1977 Pages: 48 Buy on Amazon Goodreads
One of the greatest joys I’ve known as a parent has been introducing my favorite childhood books to my daughter. As it turns out, the chance that there are new parents out there who are unaware of some of these books literally keeps me up at night. I’m starting a new feature in this space where I introduce some old books to the next generation.
Published in 1977, Pig and the Blue Flag is about a pig who hates gym class because he’s bad at it. He’s overweight, not because he has a health condition, but because he likes to eat. In other words, he’s the most relatable character ever written.
The other animals give Pig a hard time about his habits, but Pig is fine with himself. Except during gym, when he has total “butter hooves.” He wins the game for the team with a combination of luck, optimism and blind fear.
The book is told in a conversational style that’s as fun to read aloud as it must have been to write. The best part of all, however, is the book includes instructions on how to play Capture the Flag. Here comes a personal story: My mother read the book to my Kindergarten class and we all went outside to play it dressed as the characters. By “dressed,” I mean we wore dyed potato sacks to represent various animals, but close enough.
My best friend wore a pink potato sack as Pig, and I was Raccoon. We captured the beejeekers out of that flag in our itchy potato sacks. You can find an old copy on Amazon and see if Pig ever got those cupcakes he kept dreaming about.