"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tom, Betty & Susan In The Autumn


From My Little Blue Story Book, 1953
It's that neighborhood time of year again, as anyone who was raised on Little Red, Blue, and Green Story Books can tell you. For some it may have been Dick, Jane, and Sally; for others it was Tom, Betty, and Susan. You know who I mean! And you know who you are! Can we ever really forget that mesmerizing presentation of the post - World War II American Dream?

Trick - or - treating, picking apples, raking leaves: our little reading group pals did all these things in a safe, orderly autumnal world. Every autumn it seems that our neighborhood becomes a page right out of those nostalgic Little Books, complete with big old trees, sidewalks, harvest - time flower beds, and pumpkins on the porches. Remember how it was nearly always fall in those stories? Certainly never winter, rarely spring or summer.

When I started first grade back in 1963 (at the romantically named "Eugene Field Elementary"), the school was in the process of upgrading from the 1940s reading series to the newly published 1960s imprints. Already absurdly nostalgic at the age of 6, I somehow discovered the old worn out books from 1948, '53, and '57 -- lying unused on a dusty classroom shelf. I was irresistibly drawn to these old old copies and wanted nothing to do with the new series. However magical the updated editions were, the older books were even more so! I relentlessly implored my teacher to let me use them instead of the newer set. Sensing their artistic appeal to a little girl's imagination, she kindly rescued an entire set from the discard pile just for me.

Oh how I loved those images and that glimpse into the perfect life. What I admired most about Mother was her set of glass (we always had plastic or aluminum) mixing bowls, one in each color: green, yellow, blue, red! Wow! Where did she get those? I always wondered what was wrong with our family that we didn't measure up to those flawless Americans. Betty and Susan always had matching coats and dresses, sweater sets, or a new set of play clothes, whereas we were always wearing hand me down corduroys from our cousins. It was like Robert Frost and the Garden of Eden and Norman Rockwell all rolled into one, except that I was standing just outside the bubble. I was envious but incredibly intrigued.

How could I ever get inside? I would need a mother who didn't go out to work and a father who wore a hat!

Ah well.

Now, of course, no one uses the hopelessly simplistic and outdated "Readers" any more (though collectors can find used copies on the web). Still, a trace of those good old days lingers whenever Halloween rolls around, with plenty of unique costumes, trick - or - treating and all the whimsical trappings your heart desires -- pumpkin soap by the kitchen sink and little pumpkin candles in the window sills, miniature candies, stickers, cookie cutters, spider webs, jack - o - lanterns, even orange twinkle lights! Dick, Jane, and Sally may have gone down in history; yet the ghosts of Tom, Betty, and Susan come each year on the autumn wind to walk home after school and play in the leaves along the way.


All Illustrations by Ruth Steed
Bowls, Towels, Blue Car & Pumpkin Stand, above
from My Little Green Story Book, 1957

See also: "Dick, Jane & Bill (Bryson)"


  1. What great memories! I just love it when I can find some of those books, or others like them, at the thrift stores!

  2. I loved these readers! I also remember there were workbooks that accompanied them. How I would love to get my hands on some of them. It would be so wonderful to look at them again.

  3. Vickie said . . .
    I want a matching pair of towels like those in the children's books!

  4. I Googled this on a whim and was instantly overwhelmed with powerful recollection. At Lindbergh Elementary in Dearborn, our three reading groups were the White Ponies, Black Ponies, and Brown Bears.