I was one of the 85 million elementary school kids stuck reading Dick and Jane books, the brainchild of Zerna Sharp, a La Porte teacher who went to work for Chicago publishers Scott Foresman in the 1930s. But by the time I read the books they were ridiculously outdated. I remember being skeptical of a dog that said “bowwow” in such a restrained manner and marveling at the lack of evil characters (even the Happy Hollisters had Joey Brill). After running across one of my brother’s stolen primers recently, I had a few rueful laughs at a scene in which Dick asks Jane to play ball. She says, “No thank you. I want to help mother. I want to help mother in the kitchen.” No wonder I’m like this, I thought; at the same time I was getting that message, a young teacher with a shag was telling our second-grade class about the accomplishments of Helen Keller and Jane Addams.
Not surprisingly, Dick and Jane’s academic reign ended a short time later. Their memory lives on, though, in the exhibit Dick and Jane: Illustrations of an American Education, which opens this Sunday at the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State. The show’s illustrations and photographs were originally collected for a documentary by exhibit curator David Thompson. The hour-long video Whatever Happened to Dick and Jane? will be shown at various times during the exhibit’s run. Call 747-4740 for more.