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American Primers and Readers

Featuring the Words and Collection of Richard L. Venezky

An online exhibition of the Cubberley Education Library, Stanford University

The Modern Period (1921 - Present)

Modern exhibit case
Detail of left side of exhibit case

"In 1930 William S. Gray, a renowned educational psychologist and reading authority from the University of Chicago became a senior co-author with William H. Elson in creating the Dick and Jane series, first issued as the Elson Basic Readers in 1930-31. This was the first reading series to enforce strict vocabulary control over selections. Dick and Jane appeared in the pre-primer, but not in its original title. In 1934 the pre-primer was retitled Dick and Jane and a second pre-primer, More Dick and Jane Stories, was added. Two years later a further revision was done and the series title changed to the Elson-Gray Basic Readers, to acknowledge Gray’s true role in the series design" (Venezky, 1990b, p. xxiv).

Detail from the Elson-Grey Basic Pre Primer

Playing the Story, a dress-up game inspired by the Elson-Gray Basic Pre-Primer story, "A Funny Baby" (Gray, 1936, p. 147).

Detail of right side of exhibit case

"The progenitors of the Dick and Jane series … were the Elson readers, which began in 1914 with the Elson-Runkel Primer, and continued over the next few years with a complete reading series to complement on the primary and early elementary levels the Elson Grammar School Readers which had already been published for grade 5 through 8. The Elson readers included the first pre-primer ever published and also and an extension or supplementary series entitled the Child Library Readers. This series was highly successful and continued to be revised through the 1920s. In 1927, a mechanical revision brought in the first pupil workbooks" (Venezky, 1990b, pp. xxiii-xxiv).

Detail of pp. 2-3 of the Elson Basic Reader

Elson, William H. and William S. Gray. 1930. The Elson Basic Readers. Chicago: Scott, Foresman, and Co.

Detail of pp. 142-143 of the Teachers' Guidebook for the Elson-Gray Basic Readers

Gray, William S. 1936. Teacher's guidebook for the Elson-Gray basic readers. Chicago : Scott, Foresman.

(Teachers' manual for The Elson Basic Reader, pictured at left.)

Cover image of the Child-Library Reader

Elson, William H. 1923. Child-library readers. Primer, [Book one-]. Chicago : Scott, Foresman.


Cover image of the Elson Basic Reader

Elson, William H. and William S. Gray. 1930. The Elson Basic Readers. Chicago: Scott, Foresman, and Co.

Cover of the Elson-Runkel Primer Teachers' Edition

Elson, William H. [1914-1915?]. Elson-Runkel primer. Chicago : Scott, Foresman.