Dick and Jane and Vampires

By Laura Marchesani

Reviewed by Becca Worthington

Recommended for: Anyone old enough to have a sense of irony. Reading level: First grade. Content level: Teen and up.

One Word Summary: Surprising.

Dick and Jane books go back to the 1930s, a series of innocent romps and mini-adventures with pink gingham middle sister Jane, perfectly coiffed big brother Dick, blonde ringlet toddler Sally and their lovable dog Spot. Mother wears an apron and cooks well-balanced meals, Father reads his newspaper, and the milkman never misses a delivery. The children jump rope and take immense delight in seeing Spot

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run. It’s all very delightfully Pleasantville. Best of all, the books are wonderfully designed as educational tools for early readers, full of repeated, monosyllabic words in short, simple sentences.

As a child in the 80s, I grew up learning to read with Fun with Dick and Jane, which was undoubtedly a nostalgia trip for my mother next to me, coaxing me through the syllables, who grew up reading the books herself in the 50s. Given the current literary obsession with mash-up novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a shock that this classic children’s Learn-to-Read series should reinvent itself with the sassy new addition Dick and Jane and Vampires. But having read it, I still couldn’t be more shocked.

The element that is most startling (which both makes the book work like a charm and makes it impossible to pick an audience for) is its absolute authenticity to the originals, down to the dimpled illustrations. The siblings sit down for an afternoon of arts and crafts (“See Jane make something red. See Dick make something blue.”)… but a mysterious bat flies in the window

and destroys their artwork. They play Hide and Seek (“Look and see. Where is Sally? Look, Jane, look. Look, Dick, look.”)… but there is a vampire hiding under the bed when they lift the ruffled divan. The mailman comes, as always, with bottles of milk for the whole family… and one special glass bottle for Vampire filled with red liquid.

I had an absolutely wonderful time reading this. I laughed out loud. I plan on buying extra copies and giving them to all my friends for Christmas. When it was sticking out of my purse on the subway, the hipster next to me started laughing and asked if he could see it, and I could hardly pry it out of his hands at my stop. It has undeniable ironic appeal and is a fantastically creative gift book. But although the reading level is definitely on par with Grade One, when I took it home to read it aloud with my siblings and parents, my sister’s11-year-old came in to see what we were laughing about, and my sister sent her out of the room, deeming the material “inappropriate.” So is this, in fact, a children’s book?

I have no idea whether it would appeal to children, and I am pretty sure that several of the illustrations would terrify the first graders that it is stylistically written for. But it certainly appeals to adults, and if nothing else, Dick and Jane and Vampires is a fun throwback to the days when a children’s book was truly dedicated to the joys of reading. After all, in the end, Vampire does have a great deal of fun with Dick and Jane.


© Jordan B. Nielsen, 2012