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Zerna Sharp
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    (August 12, 1889-June 17, 1981)
    Born in Hillsburg, Indiana
    Elementary school teacher and textbook editor
    With William S. Gray, created the 'Dick and Jane' series of primers for beginning readers (1927)
    Did not write the content, but oversaw the story lines and layout
    Primers introduced one word per page and no more than five new words in any one story
    New 'Dick and Jane' titles published until 1973
    She called Dick and Jane 'my children.'
    No black people appeared in the books until 1965.
    Critics complained that Jane was depicted in stereotypically feminine roles and as subservient to Dick.
    The books were not exactly action packed. ('See Spot run. Run, Spot, run.')
    After the publication of Dr. Seuss' 'The Cat in the Hat,' The New York Times Review of Books noted, 'Beginning readers and parents who have been helping them through the dreary activities of Dick and Jane and other primer characters are due for a happy surprise.'
    According to her nephew, the distinctively repetitive style of the primers was inspired by a trip to the beach where she noticed children shouting at each other, 'Look, look' instead of just 'Look.'
    Her response to feminist criticism of Jane's portrayal: 'It never bothered the children. That's all an adult viewpoint.'
    Bland as they seem today, Dick and Jane were cutting edge compared to the previous standard of unillustrated and moralistic Bible stories, fables, patriotic poems and fairy tales.
    Dick and Jane taught reading to two generations of students.
    In the early 1950s, an estimated 80% of first graders were using Dick and Jane primers.

Credit: C. Fishel

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