It seems a lifetime ago, I was dropped off at my great uncles farm. He lived on the farm with his mother, my great grandmother. They lived in a rural Iowa local. We would visit them at least a couple times a year, I remember them with great fondness. My great uncle was a World War II vet. He had been one of the first group of men captured near Kassarine Pass, and subsequently spent most of the war in a concentration camp. My great grandmother was a retired school marm, she had long flowing gray hair, was sharp of wit, strong, with an honest, sometimes biting tongue, yet feeble from old age. She had taught many a child, in a one room schoolhouse in her younger days, and wasn’t the sort of lady to take any crap from anyone. One lash from her tongue, I don’t care who you are, you were toast! A great woman, they don’t make many like her.
It was here on the farm I spent some time, and I got to know and love them very well. As a young lad I did what I could do around the old farm to help. But the old farm was just that, my uncle no longer tended the fields, but he had some cows and I would help him with things that needed doing. But there wasn’t a lot to do, so I had a great deal of spare time on my hands. After a time it became boring for a young teenager. It didn’t take long for me to wade through the Readers Digest, and National Geographics that were in obvious abundance around the house. Which left me longing for something more…
One day in the old farmhouse, I was upstairs, and saw some faded dusty boxes. I snooped and discovered they were full of old books. Well I asked my great grandma if I could go through them, and she told me with a bit of glee in her voice, that yes, I could do with them as I wished.
It was then I discovered Elson Readers. These are very old reading books for schools, full of stories, fables, poems, and tales. And I devoured them. There were a great many of them ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, so I sorted them out and started at the beginning. I spent a great deal of time with these books and came to know them well.
Fast forward to now, I have been and done a great many things in this world, have raised two families, and managed to become self dependent as we all should. I am approaching my sixties and I’m content with my place in life. But my mind often wanders back to that old farm, where I was bored out of my mind, but I remember that time with a deep longing in my heart. I am old and wise enough now, to more greatly appreciate my time there. My great uncle and grandma are long since passed, I miss them with a great hole in my soul, and have shed a tear or two writing this.
So, I decided to do a search a couple days ago, and see if I could find some of those ancient Elson Readers. They are out there on Ebay, but can be expensive. I would love to own them, I have a couple on a shelf, but I am nowhere close to having them all. Then I found a link, and I clicked it. There they are! For Free! Holy crapoli!
Now not in book form, but scanned and accessible to read online. A far cry from holding a dusty old hardback book in your hands, but it will damn well do!
I have been reading them again. They still have a touch of magic in them that is indescribable. The old fables are predictably, inherent with a moral to the story. Many of the stories are about instilling honor, truth, integrity, and in some cases love of country. Others meant to teach a bit of wisdom to still naive school children. These stories and fables are from all over the world, from many cultures, and the poems, many are from names you will recognize as literary greats.
These books aren’t arranged in order, and they aren’t all there, I recall different volumes in my great grandmothers many boxes of books. But by gosh I wish to give you a little bit of me. For some of me lives in these old Elson Readers. As my great grandmother once said to me, “do with them as you wish.”
P.S. Some of the pages were poorly scanned, and difficult, but not impossible to make out. Just FYI. Also you will have to sort through them to differentiate between the readers and the teachers version.
P.P.S. Anyone who might have use for a bedtime story for the kids or grandkids, could do much worse than the text in these old readers.
EDIT: Oh! I found modern reproductions here, ~15 bucks per would add up:
Very cool! My home state had a series of readers called the “California State Readers.” They were full of stories written by people who could really write (and then, well, the Bible). There was Twain, and Shakespeare, and well many of those dead white men.
Back then, we understood that stories teach and they teach very, very well. Even my textbooks when I went to high school and college understood this. But then there was a drive for “relevance” and all of the stories, that got me into chemistry in the first place, were replaced by “relevant” pieces about nuclear waste and obscure chemical processes … that taught nothing … but were relevant.
The textbook I taught my main course out of was three times the size of the book I used when I took the course. That early book had an average of 11 end-of-chapter exercises, which were then supplemented by the teacher (remember dittos?). The “modern” book had over 100 exercises at the back of each chapter … with no guidance as to which to do, which to do first, and what those problems addressed.
We decided on quantity as a substitute for quality. (Bigger books meant bigger profits when selling them.) Basically, we were lost but we were making good time. Still are.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I shall never forget the aroma of the ditto pages!
Stories, fables, poems, seem these days a lost art for teaching. Another old teaching tool was recitation. My great grandma, mentioned in my post, used to tell me about her family catching a ship and immigrating to America. It was a long story filled with strife and death, and when she told it she spoke in a cadence, relating the tale. To this day I cannot remember but little of that story. I wish I had the wisdom then to take it all down. A history lost to time.
Relevance certainly has its place, no one can argue that. But I see no reason why in the earlier years, the stories in those old Elson Readers, could not be a learning staple.
I read them now and I am taken to another world. Another place in time. The moral of the story I dare say, is still, after all of these years, relevant 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
… I had a notion when I was putting it to paper, that you might appreciate these books 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person