AP — In the portrait, the little boy's blue eyes twinkle as he looks straight ahead. His apple cheeks shine. There's a gap in his teeth, and his reddish-brown hair is just slightly tousled. He's an All-American boy. He's Dick, of the illustrated "Dick and Jane" series that helped teach generations of public school students from the s to the s how to read. He's also Nancy Childress' childhood neighbor and the model for the drawing by her father, Robert Childress, that along with Jane, Sally, Spot and others brought the pages of the reader to life. Nancy Childress is selling her father's artwork at auction in New Hampshire at the end of April.
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The exhibition is organized by Lakeview Museum, Peoria, Illinois. Included in the exhibition are original editors' first drafts of storylines, coupled with dozens of never-before-seen working illustrations and sketches, vintage photographs of the children used as models and many of the original iilustrations published in the "Dick and Jane" series. The exhibition also includes revealing examples of changes in the series over the years. The "Dick and Jane" books reflected ongoing shifts in America's evolving ideas about gender, race, modern technology and fashion from the s through the s. Significant changes in the series clearly reflected historical moments in this country, such as the growth of the feminist movement and the changing role of women. Expanded versions which included African-American, Asian-American and other minorities highlighted the Civil Rights movement and a growing awareness of America's multi-cultural populations. Their surroundings reflected prevailing middle-class values of the period, with everyone clean and happy, living a good life in safe environments behind white picket fences. As first stories read by many American children, "Dick and Jane" presented a strangely homogeneous world where night never came, knees never got scraped, parents never yelled and everything was fun. Once television hit the American landscape, shows like Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best and The Donna Reed Show continued to promote these mythologized scenarios of the ideal, well-behaved American family. In their earliest incarnations, "Dick and Jane" books must have read like a welcome fantasy for school children who lived through the Great Depression and World War II.
Titled "Dick and Jane: Illustrations of an American Education," this is billed as the first public showing of original artwork and page proofs from the first schoolbooks of an estimated 85 million American children who learned to read from the s through the s. McGovern, whose specialty is children of the Cold War era, recently spoke at an exhibition of Dick and Jane readers at the public library in Richmond, Va. The revived interest in the old school books is surprising, in part, because Dick, Jane and friends were all but burned at the stake in the mid-'60s for being politically incorrect, racist, sexist and outdated, McGovern said.