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Finding the Sunbonnet Babies Primer

By Staff | Jul 16, 2010

Stop and think for a minute: what was the first primer you used for learning to read.

Mine was Dick and Jane. I so enjoyed those books-especially the illustrations. Recently at a garage sale, I came across a copy of “The Sunbonnet Babies Primer” by Eulalie Osgood Grover. Instantly, I was reminded of the stories my mother had shared with me about this primer because this was her first reading book. She searched high and low in McLean County for a copy of this primer when I was learning to read, but to no avail.

As an adult, she was still inspired by the vignettes of Molly and May, the sunbonnet girls. With no book in sight, she retold their stories to me with great detail. Before long, visions of them stretched into my imagination. As I carefully paged through this 1902 first edition and took notice of the charming sunbonnet girls of yesteryear, a powerful wave of emotions began to stir my tranquil body about this primer. All the elements of my Mother’s soft reminiscences for her favorite childhood pals began to float forward.

In her sunbonnet of blue and her dress of yellow was May. With her head tilted down and a bonnet of pink comes Molly, and her dress is blue. The contents revealed that at last I would get to see firsthand all the chapters. I took special note of “The Picnic” and “The Circus” since these were two that Mom had shared the most often with me. Is it not true that as children our brains are certainly like sponges? Willing to soak up information at all times-thank goodness for guiding parents who pour into that sponge streams of worthwhile knowledge. Upon purchasing the book, I headed for home and docked myself on the comfortable wicker of our front porch. As I read each story, I could clearly see my mother’s foundation in reading was well anchored in this quaint primer.

Sunbonnet Babies Primer was written by Eulalie Osgood Grover and illustrated by Bertha L. Corbett. The adventures of Molly and May are brought to life on the pages of The Sunbonnet Babies Primer. It is easy for the reader to become engaged as the stories are not told for them but by the adorable Molly and May. Miss Grover certainly did not skip on the technical side of this primer. The vocabulary is the natural vocabulary of children and contains 329 words. This winning combination of charming simple art work, great adventures, and a rock solid technical foundation made The Sunbonnet Babies Primer a gigantic success. Within a very short time it was extensively used throughout the United States. A second series entitled The Overall Boys was released in 1905 by Miss Grover, and it introduced two equally charming boy characters. Miss Grover skills and smart perception allowed her to write 27 books that sold over four millions copies. Miss Grover was born June 22, 1873 in Mantorville, Minnesota. In later years, she moved to Winter Park, Florida where she passed in 1958. A great collection of her books is on display at the Winter Park Library.

It is interesting to note that the two little girls’ faces are completely covered by large sunbonnets-no one ever gets to see their faces. This was certainly a new take on illustration.

Bertha L Corbett was the gifted illustrator who came up with this creative idea. Did it allow readers to imagine themselves under the bonnet? Today we still see sunbonnet girls on cards, kitchen towels and quilts. It certainly proved that we do not need to see a face to make a figure expressive and very memorable.

This is a primer worth searching after, and I feel blessed to have found this copy. One glance at this book and you realize it embodies the simple riches of childhood. Soon I shall reread this book to my mother at the nursing home. Since it will be a bit of celebration, I feel a worthy meal must come before our reading at the nursing home. Joining in the celebration will also be a fresh garden salad and for dessert, orange pie! A delicious meal and an afternoon of reading-what could be better than that?

Repnow is a Rugby


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