Sunday, April 13, 2008

Are You A Fish Or Are You A Clown?

Indian Village Elementary School
3835 Wenonah Lane
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46809
(260) 467-5200

Photo Credit: Indian Village Elementary School Website

I have lots to say about two particular things that I must only hint on briefly here - Kindergarten and My Parents and their educational background. Both, I think, are points of reference which I need to tell you about so that you can better understand today's entry. So let me give you hints of them and then I'll move into today's entry - which is about - First Grade, Room 19, Mrs. Marsha Lawson - and of course - Indian Village Elementary School.

Kindergarten (the year before - with Miss Crouse in Room 1) - was just 1/2 of a day (and it was the afternoon session for me). While I have lots of stories to tell about this year, one thing that stands out to me is that I never considered it a year of academics. It seemed like much of the focus was on how to co-exist with other kids and how to participate in group activities. It also served to familiarize you with the bus system, how to get around the building, and most importantly, it put you on somewhat of a schedule :).

My parents and education....First of all, at this point in time of my life, neither of my parents had graduated from high school. My father went up through eighth grade and my mother dropped out at the end of her sophomore year to have me.

When I went into Kindergarten, I didn't know how to read. I'm not sure I knew how to write. I could probably count (shrugs). My parents did recognize that education was important however, they really looked to the teachers of the school system to provide the guidance. I'm sure that had a lot to do with their lack of education.

SO - two very important data points for you to understand for today's entry.

In first grade, I didn't know what to expect and frankly, I wasn't thinking really hard about "expectations" around education. We were a pretty poor, but proud family. Although we could have qualified for free and/or reduced lunches (and of course - that dreaded "welfare" term), my parents would have nothing of that.

SO - what was I thinking about if I wasn't focused on my education? I loved me some Barbies! I had Barbies but not any of that fancy furniture (too expensive) I usually thought about what kind of things I could use from around the house that could double for my Barbie furniture/Barbie house. I'm telling you - that's mental labor intensive! :)

Mrs. Lawson was a very nice first grade teacher. She was subtle in how she tested us to see where our skills were. I don't remember any paper/pencil exercises to determine this. I think that it was some one on one sessions with her and maybe one other staff/teacher type.

After she had determined where our as-is reading and language skills were, she placed us into small groups. Each group had a name. I think that there were four groups however, the only two group names I can remember today is the Fish group and the Clown group.


Now, I assumed she put us in those groups so that she could work closely with us at the appropriate level we were all at. Now go figure. How smart of her!

I was assigned to the Fish group. At the time, I loved tuna fish so I was kind of excited about being in a group with a food attached to it that I like (for more on my food issues - see Mr. Yuk!).

I don't know how it happened but after about a week, it dawned on me that I was in the retarded group. Side note to readers - I know you know I don't literally mean that. When you are seven years old (during that period in the 70's), you knew why Reading Readiness existed and why some of your classmates didn't transition from Kindergarten to First Grade.

So, I was a little miffed that I was in the retard/slow/stupid group. The Fish Group. So ticked off I was, that I took a moment to figure out what group I should REALLY be in and over the next 3-4 weeks, I worked my way out of the Fish Group and into the Clown Group.


First Grade Readers - Publisher - Houghton Mifflin

How'd I do that?

I recognized that reading and spelling and general processing of my thoughts, was all about patterns. Okay, but know this. In first grade, I didn't KNOW that. Mrs. Lawson used something they call - oh PHONICS. And phonics for me, was about pattern, repetition, logic. I could translate the flashcards she would use, into sounds and I would practice those over and over again - not even aloud, but in my head. It wasn't memorizing - it was the marriage of sight, with hearing, and thought processing.

Like I said - Mrs. Lawson was great - she did a lot of head fakes with us :)

Mrs. Lawson was impressed when I took such a short time to work my way out of the Fish Group and into the Clown Group. Dr. Schroeder (principal with the bald head, fuzzy side burns - he kinda looked clownish...and he was always twisting a pinkie ring) wasn't sure what to make of me. But then, I really showed them - nobody puts baby into a corner (dang - I really wish I had coined that term because really - as a seven year old - that's what being in the Fish Group felt like).

I quickly surpassed the Clown Group. Mrs. Lawson was at a loss. She consulted with Mrs. Lyons (the other first grade teacher). They both thought it was a good idea to get me started with the next level up reader.

By the end of the first grade, I had whizzed through the required reading books for Grade 2, Grade 3, and Grade 4. And yes, the associated workbooks, vocabulary, and testing.

How things have changed or NOT - My parents didn't help me (or not - they were just busy with other stuff). I didn't have any fancy tutors. Every day after school, as a latchkey kid, I had CHORES and other responsibilities. We didn't even have homework in first grade. There were around 30 kids in my class too (see class picture). My point? Just another data reference for you - hopefully it gets people thinking about why kids now (who are just like I was) - aren't succeeding like I did. I don't think for a moment that I was the most unique kid in the world.

But anyway....

These books my friends, represent a very important and pivotal time in my life.

If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities," Maya Angelou

I had a fantasy of getting the heck out of the Fish Group. And by doing that - I unknowingly, laid the foundational building blocks that would benefit me a million fold for the rest of my life. Having this foundation allowed me to survive my parents divorce and my movement to at least ten additional schools. Without the foundation that Mrs. Lawson helped me realize, I would have been one of those statistics that none of us would be proud to be.

I'm slowly, but surely, locating these books either through eBay or through Amazon Marketplace. I'm convinced I'm missing ONE book from the First Grade series (so if you know what that is, please let me know).

Side note: I can't remember which of these are associated to which grade, so if you remember - let me know!!!

RainbowsSecretsPanoramaKaleidoscope WorkbookFiesta Workbook

By the way, all of these awesome books were authored by the legendary professor from Michigan State University - William K. Durr. He's retired now however, I've decided that I'm going to take my Dinosaurs book and I'm going to mail it to him to see if he'll autograph it for me.

Fer real!


Jamie H Davis said...

Hello! I am so excited to find your blog/website! I typed "panorama and kaleidoscopes reading books" into Google and found it. Do you have actual copies of these books?

I am looking for a short story in one of the books that's about the Catskill Mountains and Rip Van Winkle. Would you mind looking in the books? I would gladly repay you for a photocopy of the story. ??

Jamie H Davis
Noblesville, IN
(I grew up in Anderson, IN.)

PS: I think Fiesta was 4th grade, and Panorama was 5th grade.

Kristina said...

Hi Jamie! I just found both from Amazon Marketplace and they are enroute. No need to pay me. When they arrive (I hope this week), I'll scan it in and email to you.

And I see you are my neighbor. I live in Fishers!

Jamie H Davis said...

Howdy! Thanks! You just now ordered the actual books?! Tell me how you did this. I am not familiar with Amazon Marketplace. I will order all of them once I learn how! :)

I'm not sure in which book the short story is located. ?? It may even be one of the other books from elementary school. I just can't remember.


Jamie H Davis said...

I think Serendipity was 6th grade. I didn't see it on your site. Does that sound familiar?


Kristina said...


I ordered them earlier in the weekend.

Here's the books that seem familiar to me (Serendipity does not).


If you go to, type in William K. Durr. It will bring up for you, all of the books he authored. You'll see about 140 - when you select one you're interested in, see who is selling it used and just add it to your cart (and check out). Also, if you type in William K. Durr on ebay - there are some there too!

Kristina said...

Here's Kaleidoscope

Kristina said...

But wait - here's Serendipity!

Beth said...

I can't believe you found those books. I'll never forget "Rainbows" as that was what we were reading when my tablemate, Annette, threw up during our language arts period -- right into her open book. I was thinking that was 6th grade, but I can't remember for sure.

Colleen said...

We had different readers, but I cannot for the life of me remember what they were....they were retro, even then.

And man...I remember wanting to read ahead in the primer, and we weren't allowed to do that, and it KILLED me.

Kevin Whaley said...


Your ability to recall the details of your childhood so vividly is astounding!

Anonymous said...

Just an FYI....FWCS doesn't teach phonics. I am wondering why so many high school kids still need to help from teachers and parents to read.

Kimenm said...

Primers Tigers, Lions, Dinosaurs

1st Grade: Rainbows, Signposts

2nd Grade: Rewards, Secrets

3rd Grade: Fiesta, Panorama

4th Grade: Kaleidoscope

5th Grade: Images

Jamie H Davis said...

Did you ever find out if there was a story about the Catskills and Rip Van Winkle in one of those readers?
--Jamie H Davis

ProudTexasWoman said...

Which books went with which grade varied a bit by school. I'm pretty sure that in 1st grade, in public school, I had Rainbows and maybe Signposts. (As the counterpart to your story: I entered 1st grade already knowing how to read and mistakenly formed the impression that school was about being given tasks you already knew how to do, and showing that you knew how to do them. You can just imagine how torn from my moorings I was the next year when my folks innocently put me into a private school where all the kids had learned cursive in first grade AND I STILL DIDN'T KNOW IT.)

4th grade book: Kaleidoscope
5th grade book: would've gone to Images if had stayed in private school, but the public school skipped me over Images and put me into the
6th grade book: Galaxies

Now this left me feeling cheated -- I wanted to read Images, too! Consequently, when the 5th grade teacher happened to assign me a seat next to the book cart that had all her copies of Galaxies AND Images, any attempts to teach me grammar were doomed, because I spent every single grammar lesson clandestinely reading my way through Images. I still remember certain stories and even pages from those two books: Isaac Asimov's "The Fun They Had"; a story about a girl with cerebral palsy whose mom finds her specially selected clothes so that she'll be able to dress herself, a play with a character named Phoebe, which is how I learned to pronounce the name.

Found your page thanks to a couple of Google searches for the books, starting from Kaleidoscope and finding Galaxies, which I recognized immediately. Thanks for the pictures! I've now found a bunch of them on Amazon, though Images is currently not available from anywhere. So there's my example of something to keep working toward.

Phil Scopes said...

I don't know if I would want to be called a "clown," because that's too close to being a "class clown." But anyway...

I had this series of readers in elementary school. When I transfered to a school that utilized them, I was in 3rd grade, and went through Fiesta. 4th grade was Kaleidoscope, 5th was Images, 6th was Galaxies, 7th was Serendiputy, and 8th was Diversity. I know that Panorama was below Fiesta, because I overheard a discussion between the teacher and a girl in a lower grade about a Panorama seleciton, and I believe Signposts was below Panorama.

redsquirrel said...

Wow! I am 47 yrs. old, and these books bring back memories. My favorite story was "The Book That Saved The Earth"(Mother Goose Rhymes!). I remember a funny poem "Jonathon Blake Ate Too Much Cake," We grew up on these readers & Schoolhouse Rock in the early 70's.

Anonymous said...

To the person who remembered "Serendipity" -- I learned to read during the 70's, and I remember this was an advanced (5th? 6th? grade) reader in our elementary school. I remember the ~3rd grade reader "Cloverleaf" too, because I was obsessed with the cover photo of a craft-y paper cow made out of a milk carton. I was the kind of kid who took a 1/2 pint milk carton home to try to make a cow of my own. I think they were all in the Houghton Mifflin series, circa 1979?

Anonymous said...

Fort-child, you write a compelling narrative. My story is not too different; I was within an ace of going to the Fishes. At my school the reading placement test was a bubble sheet affair. On test day, I remember being instructed to read a paragraph-long story about Mr. Kangaroo. It was the dopiest thing I had ever seen, so really boring, but I followed the directions and read every word in a flash. Done. THEN the shocking surprise: answer these five questions, and you don't get to look back at the story. I couldn't remember a single thing about it, and gave a random answer to every question.
I was lucky that my mom was there (somehow?) with me in the school library that day, bless her heart. When I told her what had happened, she somehow talked the teachers into giving me a second shot at the comprehension test. Lucky me. I got to zip through reading books with names like "Cloverleaf" and "Serendipity" for the rest of my time in that school.

Just this month, I learned that my boss's boss's boss's boss's mother wrote the "Serendipity" book, which I started Googling, which is how I ended up here. Serendipitously.

Carolyn Dee Flores said...

Does anyone remember a story in Images or Galaxies or higher - about a boy who lives in an apartment with his grandfather who neglects him and the boy re-shelves the empty food cans in the pantry so people (social worker) will think they have plenty of food? I know the story sounds dire, but I am sure I read it in one of these readers.

jeopardy60611 said...

I attended the A.G. Bell School in Chicago, IL, and we used this reader series. The one story that sticks out in my mind that I liked was one in Fiesta about a girl named Stacy in a diving competition that was judged by a computer, and she had a metal frog that messed up the computer when she put it by the pool. By the way, I was in a "partially sighted" program, and our editions of the books were in large print, and each book took up two, or even three, bulky volumes. To this day, I wish they would have given me the regular edition and let me use a magnifier.

Doc said...

Kaleidoscope remains a real, exciting memory for me. I was reading it very very early, and for some reason I got stuck and had to work a bit harder.I bought a copy online and it brought back wonderful memories. great stories and some great illustrators

Araceli Parra said...

Moonbeams! You're missing Moonbeams! I love your blog post we sound so alike. I stumbled upon your blog while locating the books from my childhood too. I was looking for Moonbeams by William K. Durr, a book I read in the first grade and is dear to me. I have to check out all these other books you mentioned, they sound amazing.