Saturday, 28 January 2012

The number of books

I could access before I went to school was, of course, severely limited.
At that time my father was on the staff of a school in a small country town, the one I was born in. There were, I think, about six teachers and the headmaster. The library facilities were restricted to a set of shelves in each classroom.
As a teacher my father was able to use anything. He took advantage of it and brought home books to read to me.
There was also Primer One and Primer Two. These were supposed to take a child through the first two years of school - the "infant" school. Naturally I had read them well beforehand. They were, even then, gloriously old-fashioned. They had lists of "oo" and "ee" and "ea"words and "ch" and "wh" words and the simplest possible stories. The pictures dated from the war years. As children we just accepted all this.
My father also brought home "The Radiant Readers" in turn. These were intended for the primary years. I read those too. My father would listen to me read aloud each evening, patiently helping with the new words I discovered. These "readers" were supposed to last an entire year. They lasted me about three weeks - and that might have been less if my father had been prepared to spend more time listening.
I read those because they were there to be read. My father indicated that I needed to read them so I dutifully read them. I have a vague memory early on of a story of a mouse and some strawberry jam. Apart from that I remember little of their content. My brother, while remembering Primer One and Primer Two, claims not to remember the early years of the Radiant Readers. Of course Primer One and Primer Two were also used for spelling, phonics and comprehension exercises.
One of my younger sisters had Primer One and Primer Two but she also had supplementary readers, the Happy Venture series - the Schonell Readers. These did not have word lists. There were stories about Dick and Dora, Fluff (the cat) and Nip (the dog) and Jane (the doll who fell in the mud). The books were mindless and repetitive, designed to reinforce the basic principles being taught to read. My youngest sister, whose second name happens to be Jane, was not impressed by the doll. Her reading of these was supplemented at home by my mother who had, by then, gone back teaching full-time and felt that Primer One and Primer Two had qualities lacking in the Happy Venture series.
All these "readers" obviously had their value. I doubt teachers would have coped without them. They formed the very basis of what they were being asked to teach. Although they were considered long out of date I used them myself when teaching a profoundly physically disabled child to read. I had to rely on his eye movements alone to know whether he was reading the word. I had no idea what he was "hearing" in his head.
I also used them for the Whirlwind. Her love of books and her frustration at not being able to read were obvious. Primer One and Primer Two and the Happy Venture books had her reading in just a few months.
But all of us had other books and it was only when we were reading those that we really believed we were reading. What were we reading? You will have to wait.


jeanfromcornwall said...

Dick and Dora for me in early '50s Cornwall. Even then they were so boring. My Mother had to go and collect them from the school while I was recuperating from having my tonsils out and she agreed with me that they were so boring. I could read pretty well before school, so they just formalised it and filled in the odd gap.

Anonymous said...

I remember Dick and Dora - terrinbly dull stuff! Bob C-S