From Rote to Rhyme: Readers

young boy in black and white

McGuffey's New Fourth Eclectic Reader by William Holmes McGuffey interior page, black text on cream colored paper and two small children sitting and reading

Interior page of McGuffey's New Fourth Eclectic Reader

By Williams Holmes McGuffey, Cincinnati, 1879

Books fostering basic literacy skills date from ancient times. In the United States, two series had extraordinary staying power: the morality-laced McGuffey Reader Series of the 19th century, whose eponymous creator was hailed by Abraham Lincoln as the "schoolmaster of the nation"; and the mid-20th-century adventures of Dick and Jane.

At the peak of their popularity during the postwar Baby Boom, Dick and Jane readers reached 85% of America's public schoolchildren, with their idealized vignettes of white, middle-class suburban life. Educators praised the books for their contemporary, child-centered focus. Not everyone agreed, however. Journalist John Hersey condemned the series's "abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls," and the reading specialist Rudolf Flesch called the books "pointless" and worse.

Responding to the outcry, and to Cold War America's rising fear of Soviet educational superiority, an editor-friend of Dr. Seuss dared him to create a "supplementary reader [that] first graders can't put down." With the publication of The Cat in the Hat reading became uproarious fun as never before.


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McGuffey's New Fourth Eclectic Reader by Williams Holmes McGuffey cover

Cover of McGuffey's New Fourth Eclectic Reader

By Williams Holmes McGuffey, Cincinnati, 1879

McGuffey's New Fourth Eclectic Reader

Written by William Holmes McGuffey

1879

Singing Sioux Cowboy by Ann Nolan Clark cover, cowboy on horse with blue background

Cover of Singing Sioux Cowboy

By Ann Nolan Clark, U.S. Indian Service, 1947

Lak'ota pte'ole hokšíla lowansa: Wo'unspe t'okahe

(Singing Sioux Cowboy)

Written by Anne Nolan Clark

Illustrated by Andrew Standing Solider

Translated by Emil Afraid-of-Hawk

1947

Fun with Dick and Jane by William S. Gray cover, blue background with Dick, Jane, and Spot playing

Cover of Fun with Dick and Jane

By William S. Gray et al., Foresman and Company, 1947

Fun with Dick and Jane

Written by William S. Gray et al.

Illustrated by Eleanor Campbell

1947

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss cover, a black and white cat is wearing a tall red and white striped hat

Cover of The Cat in the Hat

By Dr. Seuss, Random House, 1957

The Cat in the Hat

Written and Illustrated by Dr. Seuss [Theodor S. Giesel]

1957

Visions of Childhood
From Rote to Rhyme: Readers