How I loved getting a new reader every year – well it was scarcely new having that strange smell of heavy glue and that glossy aged paper. I don’t doubt that everyone who enjoys reading doesn’t feel nostalgic for a particular school reader but I have to admit I put the readers of the 70’s and 80’s on a whole nother plain – the art work , that Peter Max meets School house Rock feel , the short stories combined with poems and Sesame Street-esque info – Even the packaging – the row of colorful spines for the Childcraft series , the collages of pictures and funky drawings. Spectacular!
The names were always fun – Mr. Whiskers , The Purple Turtle , Treasure Hunt , Fun Parade etc.. The writers were always varied – from spot on technique to a lose , rough almost childlike style , easily to relate to , full of sharp onomatopoeic sounding words – like whiz-bang , purr , gulp.
Some highlights from Starting Points in Reading B – circa 1973 – a poem by Bill Moore – The Large and Small of it about a Chihuahua and a Mastiff , a section of a story by Mary Stolz called The Bully of Barkham Street – told from the point of view of the bully. A Chapter entitled Things that Go Boomp in the Night. I love that Boomp! A story ( straight after the heart of Schoolhouse Rock or Sesame Street ) called What Can You Do with A Word? By Jay Williams. It’s about a boy named Fred who works for a witch who gives him a seemingly useless machine that will produce words as three dimensional objects- for instance he produces the word Spang that stretches like an elastic before it snaps ‘and shot Fred spang into the middle of next week.’ He uses the sharp edged word Zig Zag to cut down a tree , and the fizzing , brilliant word Sparkle to light up a dark forest. I would have been chugging out words like jeans , boots , fedora.
The other Starting Points in reading A – by Ginn and Company features the rather macabre poem Skip Skip Skip – a skipping rhyme which was seen in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Marnie ( a must see! Sean Connery is so sexy! How I loved Hitchcock week on Buffalo WUTV – channel 29 – that was when t.v.’s had dial knobs not buttons.) – Call for the doctor , call for the nurse call for the Lady with an Alligator purse. Next is a colorfully illustrated story called Aunt Agatha there’s a Lion under the couch! about just that – but the boy is perceived to be lying even as he’s carrying a tray of food up to the beast which includes a hamburger the size of a catchers mitt and a magnificent bowl of trembling tapioca. This image always stuck in my mind -trembling tapioca , nobody in my house but me liked tapioca and always tried to convince me tapioca was made of goldfish eyes – but since I could find no pupils I didn’t buy it. Even though it’s only a story I always wondered like who in the world would allow their child to prepare such a feast for a supposed imaginary friend?! My mother would have had my imaginary friend making do with imaginary cookies. Then there is Maurice Sendak’s poem Chicken Soup with Rice. Another story is told with a simple poor-boy tone called a Big Pile of Dirt about a group of inner city kids who have no playground accept for a big pile of dirt and some junky items including a crumbly armchair used like a throne , to keep them entertained. Even when a playground is set up the boy is still wistful for his big pile of dirt. My favorite thing in the whole reader are two cooking recipes – one for glazed ice Cream balls – basically dipping ice cream in Tang or frozen orange juice and rolling them in crushed walnuts the other all duded up in funky 70’s artwork is for grilled cheese sandwiches with a secret ingredient – I can’t have my grilled cheese sandwiches without it now! Mustard – that’s right , instead of just buttering the bread the recipe calls for mustard , yum! There are several stories concerning names topping it off with one called The Bakers Daughter about a snobby girl who promises to give her friend the glorious cake in her father’s bakery window not knowing till her friend tries to cut into it , that the cake is made of cardboard and is for display purposes only! Linking it with the other name themed stories is the fact that the Baker’s daughter has no name and it’s suggested that the teacher ,for a lesson , has the reader give her a name – I thought it should always be slightly exotic , but old fashioned – Marguerite , Gwendolyn , Rosemarie , Cecilia.
Ripple Effects by Networks starts off with a story called The Mind Reader by Jean Booker a cheery romp reflecting true junk series fiction – with the main girl making the most of her possibly coincidental ability to tell the future by setting herself up as a gypsy at a school fair. Terrific illustration sets the tone – a green eyed girl sits pensive before a cluster of make-up and bangles. Sometimes I wished Sweet Valley had been illustrated it would’ve been cool to see James Mathewuse’s idea of Jessica’s Hershey Bar bedroom , or better yet the Dari Burger. Jam packed with other stories and Aesop fables and a bunch of mock ads for detective agencies with pun names like – Hyde and Seek associates and Undercover Investigation on Blanket ave. It’s a lead in for the next story based on the pun of – help , I’m a prisoner in a fortune cookie factory literally. It’s called the Secret of the Fortune Cookie by Ricki Glinert and features pictures illustrations recalling the 40’s era of inky dark Mystery magazines covers. There are some eye catching poems whose shape and wording echos their theme and a rueful story about an arguing boy and girl who band together to nurse a wounded duck, they found at the title locale of the story The Dip , to no avail. The artwork is very patchwork , applique full of color.
All this heady reminiscing for some tattered readers , full of dog ears and those not so nice linked messages running along the bottom of the page you are a … turn to page 93 , and a … turn to page 101 , made me explore the novelty of fictional characters who love books. I expected it to be easy – I mean it would be downright unloyal for a fictional character to slur reading – though Jessica often does , but I was shocked at how little reading actually is mentioned in books whose very world hinges on it’s existence – Sorry I’m starting to get a little Never Ending Story on you. The lack of reading made me think of a terrific crack in a Just the Ten of Us episode in which Wendy ( wily , boycrazy blonde ) asks her fraternal twin Cindy ( curvy , dimwitted , redhead ) to meet her at the library – when Cindy arrives late , Wendy waiting impatient declares , “Where were you?!” “Sorry ,” Cindy burbles , “I didn’t know where the library was.” It just about summed up the average girl in the 80’s ,or maybe it was the image they hid behind because thousands , millions of series books were sold. Picked up perhaps with a bottle of Bold Hold hairspray and a pink tipped hair pick to fluff up your perm , just so.
I almost didn’t find any spectacular reading moments in series fiction – Elizabeth’s fondness for her beloved Amanda Howard – didn’t cut it , neither did Claudia’s hidden copies of Nancy Drew but then I ran across The Fabulous Five’s #28 Breaking up which wasn’t solely about books but their was an interesting side story which echoed the very theme of a fabulous non series book called Six Grade Sleepover by Eve Bunting.
The Fabulous Five #28 Breaking up – Starts with a bombshell – Jana has temporarily broken up with Randy in an effort to see if they are truly suited for each other after discovering her mother wished she’d spent more time dating when she was young , rather than rushing into marriage with Jana’s father. Curiously though as Randy suddenly free, is paired up with Lisa Snow for a Family Living project the story doesn’t take it’s zealous reader down the usual , expected path. Laura ( Jana’s arch nemesis – who is always after Randy is barely is mentioned in this book.) Instead Jana battles the more subtle advances of Lisa Snow & Sara Sawyer. Her problems increase however when Keith sidles into Jana’s booth at Bumpers to ask about Jana’s breakup. This is the early whoa vibe for the reader and for Jana who notices Keith disappears the second he thinks he might bump into Beth. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going – Keith wants Jana to dump Beth for him , why? cause he wants to ask out Jana! Meanwhile all her so-called friends are clamoring to date Randy. Funny thing is , it’s quiet Sara Sawyer making a play for him and not the obvious Laura. Beth doesn’t take the break up too well , though she had to agree with the reader that Keith Masterson was often immature and a jerk – but he was her jerk. Jana decides not to tell Beth why Keith wanted to dump her and finds herself caught in the middle of Beth begging her to perhaps talk Keith into taking her back and fending off Keith. Meanwhile since both of them don’t have dates for a Friday night ( heaven forbid! I mean they are only thirteen! ) they gloomily agree to sign up for a Friday night sleepover at the library and finally the wisp of a sidestory appears – it’s a book buddy event. Any second grader who reads over twenty books is eligible to attend a read in and sleepover at the library and they are asking kids at Wacko Junior high to help out. Other kids sign up making the idea more trendy – Randy Kirwin , Sara Sawyer and of course the ever ardent Keith Masterson. Unfortunately despite a
jaw-droppingly opulent , library complete with built in treehouse , the backdrop takes a back seat to the show down that’s about to take place. Keith pitches Jana a note which childishly intones
Keith Masterson + Jana Morgan which Beth snatches and reads hoping it’s about her and him getting back together. Now all of Jana’s secretive side stepping , her sudden cool off period with Randy makes Beth think that Jana wanted Keith all along. As if! But it’s junior high and this theory catches like wild fire pretty much spoiling the Read-in. The next morning Jana calls up Katie for a sympathetic ear only to discover Beth’s already blabbed the incident leaving out some choice details , and Katie actually believes Beth! This is one of the most implausible moments for me , in this series – Jana is painfully nice and for her own friends to believe she’d do something this rotten is rather dubious. When Jana finally tries to get Keith to fess up and rectify this mess , Keith won’t and bald-face lies , as a crowd gathers and Jana’s reputation hangs in the balance. Keith goes to far and fakes a date between Jana and him. Flabbergasted – her big moment to unveil Keith as a liar almost fails until she calls him on the date and Randy asks what they ordered at Mama Mia’s ( Randy & Jana’s old hangout ) , Sausage and Double cheese – fraud! Randy grabs Keith to slug him and the reader can cheer – everyone knows Jana likes Pepperoni , green pepper and mushroom pizza. They make up and Beth begs Jana to forgive her , Jana learns she should’ve confided in her friends why she wanted to break up with Randy in the first place ( her mother had regretted not dating more because she would’ve discovered Jana’s father wasn’t right for her , ) but then of course Jana wouldn’t exist – which Jana forgot.
At the end of the book is a recipe for Katie’s Taco soup mentioned in the book because Katie is on a gourmet health food kick – I’ll have to try it out some time it actually sounds pretty good.
I was disappointed that there wasn’t much said about the Read-In. It was virtually just a place for Beth to find out about Keith and that was it , in fact there isn’t even a clear idea of what took place after the blow up. I can imagine it would’ve been a rather volatile night.
The idea of a sleepover for a Read-in was done before and better in a terrific story called Sixth Grade Sleerpover ( love the jumbled, bubble lettering on the cover -orange , dark pink , yellow and bright pink! ) by Eve Bunting. The book is about Janey and Claudia two sixth graders who belong to R.A.B.B.I.T.S (read a book bring it to school ) an exclusive reading club at school. The requirements for membership is to read a minimum of books proved by written book reports due each month ( I couldn’t seem to pin down an exact number ). Though both girls are excited about the sleepover , Janey the main character whose p.o.v the story is taken from , is scared , she’s afraid of the dark and doesn’t think she can handle being in the cafeteria late at night with lights out. Claudia her best friend suggests they could hold hands at night , anything to ensure she doesn’t miss one of the most exciting events of sixth grade. As Janey is trying to work out a way she can attend the sleepover without letting anyone find out her secret , Claudia is trying to find a way of getting the boys they like to car pool with them. Blake is Janey’s favorite a nice boy who always has a Day-glo pen handy and Malcolm , Claudia’s favorite who never takes off his baseball cap. The teacher’s are Mr. Puttinski ( Putt-Putt ) who has the club mascot in his homeroom a real rabbit called Pebbles named from one of the loudmouth boys Jefferson Ames comment of the rabbit leaving little ‘pebbles’ behind him. In class they play a form of Mad Libs called who what where when and why , with Janey longing for, just once, her name to come up – Sylvie the class beauty is always mentioned and during this incident Jefferson Ames shouts out that her name was written with Blake’s day-glo pen! This makes Janey more anxious to go to the sleepover and brave her fear just to ensure she’ll be there and maybe can get to know Blake instead of leaving Sylvie with the opportunity. I love Sylvie’s outfit! Janey describes her as looking really yummy in a pinky red sweater and pinky red cords the color of strawberry slush ( I love that description! – cords were a big deal in the 80’s – people tend to look at them as those drab pencil thin furrows perhaps the color of oatmeal but I remember fat velvety plush cords whose colors were incredible – I had some in aqua blue , and crayon green! ) Sylvie also has silver barrettes in her hair that look like huge paper clips ( most of my barrettes were just the Goodie kind – little blue boats and yellows ducks – stuff like that ) . Janey describes Sylvie as someone who always finds out new trends , her friend Tina follows and she ( Janey ) and the others lag somewhere behind in the trends. Isn’t that the truth ( now with the internet it’s possible to be a little more on top of things ) but I remember a girl in school and she was always the first to do something – whatever the fad was she was the forerunner , I recall though I had a couple of shining moments (fashion wise) but other than those I pretty much followed. Goldie is the other teacher involved in the club , one of those fabulous people the reader wishes they had for a teacher. She’s called Goldie because everything about her , her skin , hair , even a couple of teeth are golden and emphasizes her nickname by gobbing on lots of gold jewelry ( which Jefferson Ames has been known to call her Mr. T behind her back – something Jane would never do ) She carries a bouquet of celery ( that’s right celery ) with her the way some people mostly movie stars would carry a bouquet of flowers. She has even inspired Janey er Jane to love her plain-Jane name by reading her a quote from Jane Eyre which makes Jane sound like the most romantic name in the world.
Janey covertly tries to find out what her mother talked to Goldie about , if the situation concerning the lights at the sleepover has been settled but most of all if her secret is safe. While there she bumps into Blake who reveals he is glad when Janey reveals that she now may be going which definitely boosts her spirits. I love the awkwardness Eve Bunting has created between the boys and girls, it gives a real genuine feeling to gauche adolescence when you sweated over the lousiest of things, a mere hello. I remember back in grade school you were always hopeful that a boy would say hi back but there was no guarantee and waiting for it was worse than the sing-song minutes ticking away on Final Jeopardy with thousands riding on an answer. And their was always a creep like Jefferson Ames around keeping tabs any opportunity to yell out something like oh so-and-so’s got a crush. Unfortunately Janey’s night light plan is a bust when a trial run to the cafeteria reveal the awful truth that the darkness practically swallows the little squares of light. Rosie the slightly weird new girl in school ( her defect seems to be ultra big feet) has managed to arrange it so that Blake and Malcolm will be in their car pool , making Janey and Claudia the envy of the more popular Sylvie and Tina when they reveal that not only did they receive a note from a boy ( only to pass on the car pool plans ) but that they will also be riding with them. Sylvie meanwhile had been discussing her adorable new p.j’s pink with feet and a soft puff of a bunny tail ( in 1986 footy pajamas were still somewhat popular but in a way that you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in them outside your house ) I had a pair of fuzzy furry green ones but that was in fifth grade – by sixth grade I had moved onto the ever popular ever reliable nightshirt. Janey and Claudia begin to rethink their pajama situation they’d planned with Rosie to wear sweatshirts and cords now they began to wonder if a shopping trip is in order. They’re off to buy p.j’s Claudia buys one that looks like a baseball jersey with the words Sweet Dreams Dodgers on it because Malcolm wears a Dodgers cap – Clever and sly. While Janey buys a nightgown with lace and pink and white candy stripes and matching pale pink ballet slippers. Rosie is set up with a bit of a mystery , a lonely sort of girl who lives with a grandfather whose going blind and her mother works two jobs to support them , Rosie is caught with a bag full of books from the library a weird mix – Day of the Jackal and One Fish , Two Fish , Red Fish , Blue Fish. It seems Janey’s not the only one with a secret. The night of the sleepover arrives with the girls excited , frightened , nervous , Janey’s little sisters behave nicely for once handing her special soap that even the boys in the car think smells nice. And on the drive Janey is ecstatic that she can actually have a conversation with Blake about books , marveling about how the power of reading can actually do that. While Blake continues his book conversation with Janey later in the library , Sylvie tries to horn in showing Blake and only Blake a picture from a Garfield the cat comic book. As the night gets started with what else reading – Janey marvels is there anything so cozy in the world as lying on a sleeping bag with your friends around you , munching celery with peanut butter , and reading a good book!
I loved how Janey reveals that they’re not allowed to wear any make-up but Chapstick. I loved Chapstick! Especially cherry – the smell brings me back to 80’s super-cold winters. I was not as restricted however and could wear make-up in sixth grade – I loved – Kissing Potion , those paint box eye shadow kits , Dr. Pepper lip smackers , Bonne Bell Liquid blush and Colbalt blue mascara. Of course I couldn’t be bothered to put it on every day but I liked the fact that I was allowed. I recall some girls smuggling make-up in their pencil cases. Strange it wasn’t as if they did the whole ‘Stephanie’ thing in Degrassi Junior High ( if you don’t recall that – in the show Stephanie goes to school in good-girl clothes – preppy collar tops , long skirts and ditches them in the girls washroom for tight skirts , boob tubes and Madonna make-up ) mostly the girls just touched up their faces with pastel colors to match their big white hoop earrings. It was all pretty tame.
The night continues on with the surprise of Goldie and her husband singing together , startling everyone by the magic of their glittering outfits and talent. A game called King and Queen that I had never heard of which includes two players racing around with erasers on their head ( they are unable to touch them ) ordered by Putt-Putt as to who had to tag who – such as if he calls out Queen – Janey would chase Blake , and just as she goes to tag him he could call out King meaning she has to abruptly get away from him. And wouldn’t you know it the one person you don’t want to be paired with is the one person you get – I always thought teachers either a. wanted revenge on students by their pairing or b. occasionally felt sorry for a student resulting in the pairing. Janey gets paired with Blake and of course an accident happens when Janey’s eraser slips and she winds up conking him on the nose with her fist , so hard it’s brought tears to his eyes or ahem how he says it when Janey mistakenly ( and she knows it’s a mistake ) says please don’t cry – he’s not crying his eyes are watering. Oh boy. Now Janey feels as though her magic night is slipping away. And the worse is yet to come. At lights out Janey is positioned so some of the light will fall on her but’s it’s not enough sneaking out to the washroom she bumps into Rosie , caught crying in a stall. Has she met a kindred spirit someone with a problem like her? No, though Rosie does admit to being a little afraid of the dark , she tells Janey her secret , she can barely read and has gotten by listening to books on tape and reading stuff like Red Fish , Blue Fish , One Fish , Two Fish. As the girls talk Janey encourages Rosie to get help , and decides to stay the night with her to help her finish reading her nights pages. But when Janey goes to grab her sleeping bag little peeping noises coming from inside cause her to scream. Believing her worst fears about the dark have come true reality is much better – Pebbles has had a litter of babies. Janey feeling relieved decides to confesses her fear and asks for the lights to be left on. Nobody mocks her or laughs or complains. Which I found refreshing but amazing. In the morning they take balloons to sail off their evenings readings to perhaps inspire whoever finds them. Janey takes a yellow balloon and tells herself it doesn’t much matter what color Blake takes until he too snatches the other yellow balloon and brings over his day-glo pen for Janey to use , afterwards saying keep it. Janey is astonished , pleased. The story
ends on a pleasant note with Janey and Blake’s balloons strings tangling in the sky.
This was one of my first books I’d ordered through those school book clubs – I had previously watched other kids order like mad, slightly envious when those stacks of glossy books came in and decided to do something about it , I ordered this book and the Babysitters club # 3 after someone had told me what a great series it was , I read both books until I practically had them memorized.
I remembered thinking what a great idea – a sleepover with books! O.k. so it sounds like nerd heaven so what! Who else do you think read series fiction. Although Jessica sneers at books I knew more ‘Jessica’s’ reading series fiction than say perhaps Newberry fiction , in my own way I was a slight Jessica – having a group of friends that loved talking about boys , clothes and makeup rather than doing homework. But we liked to read! I think sometimes the writers forget about that when they’re creating their characters – it’s like in the world of Svh there’s a marked sense of unreality to minor things – reading of course is one of them , a strange phenomena when the writers world hinges on readers to then slur them as nerds it’s well kinda like a slap in the face. I’m glad for these books which put reading on such a glowing level. I’ m forever mentally rewriting things and thought what would have been great at the end of the sleepover was if Goldie gave each R.A.B.B.I.T the ultimate party favor – a shiny new paper back book!
P.s. what would you wear to your sixth grade class sleepover? – I don’t think I’d be that brave I was prone to sleeping in flannel jogging suit sets – which are kinda like p.j’s but in spring I’d switch to a night shirt – I think I had one with bears cuddling on it – you know very Lisa Frank ( the sticker designer ). My sleeping bag was – dare I admit it – Pound Puppies. My reading for the night would’ve been Sweet Valley high!
The Pictures are from various readers from the 70’s and 80’s by Ginn and company and Ripple Effects. Hope you enjoy.