Along Came Greedy Cat: Exploring the “Ready to Read” instructional reading series 1963-1988 as New Zealand children’s literature
Ready to Read is a graded instructional reading series that has been provided free-of-charge since 1963 by the New Zealand government for students in the first three years of school. It has therefore been a key part of the reading experiences of New Zealand children for over fifty years. There is a commonly held belief that there is a distinction between instructional reading materials (the materials that are used to help children learn to read) and children’s literature – that the manipulation of text involved in developing instructional materials necessarily detracts from their literary appeal. The Ready to Read instructional reading series, however, was developed with the dual aims of helping children learn to read and want to read. The series also reflects the vision of the Department of Education of “New Zealand materials for New Zealand students.” The Ready to Read materials were (and are) written and illustrated by New Zealanders, and trialled in New Zealand schools before publication, meaning that teachers and children have input into the materials. The materials include contributions by some of New Zealand’s leading writers for children, including Margaret Mahy and Joy Cowley. They have a unique status in the history of New Zealand children’s books as being among the first picture books for young New Zealand readers, and the very first that acknowledged Māori children as part of the reading audience. Moreover, as a “home-grown” reading series, seeking to reflect the interests and experiences of New Zealand children, the materials provide a unique insight into New Zealand society and changes in social attitudes, in particular the emergence of biculturalism. While there is a significant body of research into the New Zealand School Journal, little attention has been paid to the Ready to Read materials (which are for younger readers). Price (2004) has written a short history of the early years of the Ready to Read series and McLachlan (1996) has investigated the visual representation of Māori in Ready to Read and the School Journal. This research seeks to fill this significant gap. This thesis explores how and why the series developed as it did from 1963-1988. It investigates the cultural and educational contexts, the literary aspects of the materials, and the beliefs about children as readers that underpinned its development. The “home-grown” nature of the Ready to Read materials, their literary qualities, their depiction of children’s lives, and the place of the series in the early reading experiences of New Zealand children make it indisputably a significant aspect of New Zealand children’s literature. It is hoped that this examination of the first twenty-five years of the Ready to Read series will be of interest to a wide audience, including educators, publishers, and researchers, and that it may serve as a starting point for further investigation. While this research is of immediate significance to a New Zealand audience, it also has international relevance in its description of an approach to the development of meaningful, engaging instructional texts for beginning readers that is unparalleled in the world.