Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Thrifty Acres: Vintage Children's Readers

Hello! Although I found grade school pretty boring, I enjoying the readers we were issued every year - in fact, I enjoyed them enough to seek them out at secondhand markets as an adult.

These readers are now old enough to be considered vintage, so sometimes are priced accordingly, even at some thrift stores. But depending on condition, pricing whims, and who knows what else, they can also be quite very inexpensive.

I didn't really care about condition when I purchased my readers; I was in it for the nostalgia factor:

The book with the blue cover is in good shape, but the others are more beat up. But that shouldn't exactly be a surprise, since these were handled by kids in the mid-1960's, and who knows how many years they were in use. Obviously my collection isn't complete since the three books represent just 3rd, 4th and 6th grades. 

Flipping through the 3rd grade reader, I was struck by how creative, resourceful and responsible the children were portrayed as being

Above, the boy in the story had decided to sell his old bike in order to buy a new one. He goes through several fix-it steps, including taking the bike to his dad's gas station mechanic to get the gears oiled.(Are there still gas stations with mechanics on duty? If so, there's not nearly as many around as there used to be!)

And after all the work the boy put into his bike to get it sale-ready, he decides it's like a brand-new bike now and decides to keep it!

Above, two young girls, who happen to be best friends, meet up at the grocery store. Both had been sent by their mothers with grocery lists. Granted, both lists were short, but when's the last time you saw kids doing some family grocery shopping alone? Perhaps such things still happen in places that have corner markets, but like the gas station mechanic, those businesses are dwindling in number too.

Kids are depicted over and over as resourceful, creative problem solvers:

A girl fashions a dog run for her lively puppy so he won't cause any more destruction inside the house (the last straw was when he chewed up her library book). 

A girl needs to wake up very early, but the family alarm clock is broken. She and her older sister devise a makeshift "alarm" by hooking up the vacuum cleaner with a timer their dad had bought to use when defrosting the refrigerator (thank goodness the days before self-defrosting refrigerators are long gone!). Now, both girls are older than 3rd grade (the older sister is in high school), but that was still pretty clever of them. In fact, that older sister is said to be better at fixing things than their dad, who's an engineer. What a positive message for girls, especially in the days before Women's Lib! 

I was also pleased that this textbook wasn't lily-white. The girl who made the dog run is Asian-American, while the girl above who woke up to the roar of the vacuum cleaner is African-American. Other stories featured Hispanics. Thus, all in all some good diversity.

I'll show off one last bit of cleverness from this reader (there were even more stories along this vein):

A boy creates a pulley system for making his bed in a fraction of the time. Pretty clever indeed! I must have been inspired by this story, for a year or two later I designed my own bedroom aid: a pulley system  that turned the bedroom light switch halfway across the room on and off without having to get out of bed. Not bad for a 10-year-old when I think back on it now! Alas, my pulley system was short-lived, for I'd had some rare bedroom time to myself. My sister had gone away for the weekend, so I had to remove my innovation before she came back home.

Moving on to the 4th grade reader:

An Aluet boy in Alaska looks up at the stars before he goes to sleep at night. Later on his school participates in a contest among Alaskan children to design the Alaskan flag. The boy references the Big Dipper in his design and this is a winner with the judges. His design becomes the official flag. It's a true story of how the Alaskan flag came into being.

When I was a kid, parents were almost always depicted as ever-helpful and patient with their children (maybe they still are shown that way, I don't know). In my set of readers, parents gladly let their children take in stray dogs and a goat. And in the above photo, a dad is helping his son with a burgeoning guppy population. 

By 4th grade, the Powers That Be had decided that kids were old enough to read a portion of a chapter book. I had fondly remembered the chapter book from that grade's reader, and searched in the vintage readers I saw for sale until I found the one that had:

The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz. In this book, nothing much seems to happen in the life of 11-year-old Ann, except for the hard work involved in settling up western Pennsylvania in the late 1700's. She misses the more settled life her family had left behind in Gettysburg. But by the end of the book, she's as dedicated as the rest of the family in protecting their crops from a fierce storm.

And guess who comes to dinner? George Washington himself, in the area to check up on some land he owned nearby. As a kid, I thrilled along with Ann at having such an illustrious man share a meal with her family. And it really had happened: Ann was the author's great-great-grandmother, and the oral history of that great event had been passed down. (George Washington also mentioned the meal stop in his diary, Fritz says). 

Of course I read the story again after buying this reader, and enjoyed it just as much as I had in 4th grade! It is a delightful book. 

The 6th grade reader had many stories that took place in other countries:

Above, an Irish boy explores a cave off the coast and discovers the skeleton of a Viking, with the wonderfully-carved board game that had been left with the warrior upon his death. The boy estimated that the game and the skeleton were centuries old. What a find! 

An American girl living in Japan makes friends with a renowned artist who recognizes her own budding artistic talents. 

In order to ease the family finances, a young man in China prepares to leave for the west coast of the US. 

And from the US to New Guinea we have:

The Rain Forest by Armstrong Sperry. This was the 6th grade reader's chapter book selection. I recall the teacher reading it out loud to us at the end of the day, bit by bit, and my class found it fascinating. After all, it was long way from small town Midwest to the rain forest of New Guinea. The main character, a boy of 14, joins a excursion that will lead him to his dad, an ornithologist on the hunt for a rare bird. His group has many adventures along the way, including some close calls.

Alas, only the first half of the book was included in our reader. I wanted to find out what happened in the second half, so I went to the library to check it out. The public library was literally across the street from the school (and both were a short walk from my house), so that took little effort on my part. But when I told the teacher I'd read the book in its entirety, she seemed surprised.

But it's no surprise to me that this is still an engrossing read. When our daughter was old enough, I had her check out The Rain Forest from the library so I could read it in its entirety once more. 

It's funny how something you read as a kid can stay with you as adult. But thanks to my small collection of vintage children's readers, I can reread those stories. Hmm, I do have several grades' worth of readers missing though. I'd like to find the one that has the story of how Paul Revere became a silversmith...



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