Does the name William Harris Elson ring a bell? If so, you probably remember him for his Fun with Dick and Jane readers. However, earlier in his career, he created this reading series, which first appeared in 1909. This series has been reprinted from the 1920 edition of the Elson readers, with the original format, layout, study questions, and illustrations retained. The only updating you'll find here is in some of the text, which has been updated and edited "only where necessary" in terms of spelling and punctuation. All poetry has been untouched, and the end result of the book is an edition very faithful to the original. Like other readers from the time period, the selections will be more advanced than we are used to seeing in similarly-graded editions of today, but whatever difficulty may be encountered in reading is more than made up for in the quality reading selections, many by great authors. Where else can you be introduced to pieces by Davy Crockett, John James Audobon, Sir Walter Scott, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ralph Waldo Emerson at this level? The selections also tend to focus on our country, nature, U.S. and world history, classic literature, the Bible, biographies of great men, classic fairy tales and adventure stories, and more. Readers for grades seven and eight incorporate more "classic" American literature, from well-known authors. The overall flavor is a very patriotic, conservative, academic feel that lovers of history and great literature are sure to appreciate. Selections include a mix of prose and poetry, and longer selections are often divided into more manageable portions to retain comprehension. At the lower levels, reading selections feature folk tales, poems (including Mother Goose), and simple, wholesome stories.
Each grade level consists of a paperback reader and a teacher's guide. The readers contain reading selections and a glossary. Readers for Grade 3 and above also feature a "Helps to Study" section with suggested comprehension questions for each reading selection. The teacher's guide contains objectives for each section, answers to the comprehension questions, and extension activities, which often involve writing assignments, using graphic organizers, hands-on activities, or answering comprehension questions for a piece that did not originally include study questions. Vocabulary exercises are included at the end of each unit in the teacher's guides for upper elementary/junior high levels, while vocabulary is incorporated into the comprehension questions at lower levels. In upper elementary grades, vocabulary worksheets are strictly word-definition exercises, where the word is supplied, and the student must write a definition. As the original readers and teacher's guides focus primarily on reading skill and comprehension, the updated teacher's guides attempt to fill in the gaps as far as literature study is concerned. Therefore, some of the extended activities focus on teaching concepts like conflict, plot, characterization, cause-effect, poetic meter, rhyme schemes, and more. An appendix at the end of the upper elementary teacher's guide offers advice on silent and oral reading, graphic aids for oral presentations and the writing process, a brief description of World War I (often referred to in the readers, due to the publication date) and a copy of the glossary included in the reader. Primer, Book One , and Book Two teacher's guides are more minimal, and include comprehension/vocabulary questions for most stories, worksheets that focus on phonics, word word usage or simple story elements, and some guidance on including phonetic instruction into the lessons.
If you enjoy the feel and challenge of a "vintage" literature program, I think you'll enjoy the Elson readers. Readers will be exposed to a variety of quality writers, a lot of excellent nature and history writing, and a great love for our country. As mentioned above, comprehension and clarity in reading are the main focus of the series, and although an effort has been made with regard to literary structure and elements, you may wish to complement the series with a supplement that spends more time dissecting these elements. - Jess