My Weekly Reader
First launched in 1928, My Weekly Reader sought to make the national news accessible to elementary school children. By the early 1970s grade-specific versions were available for students from preschool to the sixth grade.
My Weekly Reader was the brainchild of Eleanor Murdoch Johnson, the director of elementary schools in York County, PA. Seeking to balance children's preference for myth and fantasy with greater knowledge of world events, Johnson pitched the idea of a weekly newspaper for elementary students to American Education Publications, publisher of Current Events, a newspaper for 6th graders established in 1902. Circulation reached 100,000 the first year and by the end of the 1930s, first through sixth graders had their own edition.
Once a week teachers distributed copies of My Weekly Reader to millions of students in two-thirds of the nation's schools. Students read the 4-8 page educational paper in class or for homework. The articles provided teachers with a springboard for discussion about current events. The oversized weekly printed on newspaper stock included grade-appropriate stories, photographs, illustrations, puzzles, cartoons—even advertisements for books. Some children who loved reading about the space race, examining animal pictures, and laughing at the comics also looked forward to the next issue. While many students found My Weekly Reader to be more like fun than work, others remained uninspired by the flat prose and corny humor.
Despite its claim to present the news with accuracy and fairness, from its inception through the Cold War, the current-events newspaper provided more biased than balanced coverage of international events. News articles avoided issues of conflict (e.g., Civil Rights movement) and instead promoted an anti-Communist, pro-Patriotic Cold War perspective. For much of the twentieth century, My Weekly Reader imaged its readership to be both Caucasian and Christian.
What ideas and kinds of information did My Weekly Reader establish as important for school children to be American citizens? Did My Weekly Reader imagine that male students differed from girls such as the one pictured here? Analyses of the facts, values, customs, and biases in the articles, images, and cartoons in My Weekly Reader is sure to provide researchers with information and insight into the formation of the cultural identity and media literacy of American school children.
Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell.