Letter People Land: A Tale of Looking and Lamenting
Earlier this week, one of my good friends informed me that she would be teaching kindergarten for the first time starting this year. This eventually led to a discussion regarding the different methods of teaching younger kids how to read.
So I nonchalantly mentioned the Letter People.
I shrugged the incident off. But I still feel like I owe her some sort of explanation.
With that being said…UVO, take me back to 1993.
My classroom setting at New Market Elementary was fairly simple. We sang, we drank copious amounts of chocolate milk (straight from the carton, of course), and we played with toys. And we were all riveted by the “special guests” in our midst, the Letter People.
Week after week, our teacher propped a different Letter Person inflatable against the front wall of our classroom. Each character ushered in a new theme song to help teach what sound that specific letter made, and occasionally another Letter Person would join in to show how the two letters could combine to make a new sound.
With that in mind, you’re probably thinking, “This really doesn’t sound like that bad of a program.” But the real beauty of the material was how each character derived his or her name. Looking bad, the Letter People preyed on the abnormalities /insecurities of cartoon characters with the sole purpose of forming and honing our reading skills.
For example, Mister T (no, not THAT Mr. T) had Tall Teeth. Mister M had a Munching Mouth. And unlike your typical binge eater, he was also shameless, as flamboyantly displayed in the following clip:
Once a character’s week ended, we were told the character would go back to Letter People Land, a land that none of us snot-nosed brats ever dreamed we would discover, so Fridays were somber at best.
And none of us asked questions – after all, the characters only taught us how to spell. Critical thinking was still optional at this stage. Now I had my suspicions…but 1st grade brought about some tumultuous changes (I.E. one of my classmates making fun of me for still wearing a Barney sweatshirt) that derailed my intentions of ever piecing the puzzle together.
But I guess deep down inside… I still wondered about those damn Letter People.
During this time of discovery, I was helping my mother and sister prepare for a school carnival, and we had to retrieve some items from the school attic. Like any other attic, we examined a mélange of odds and ends, of trash and treasures. Several minutes passed and suddenly my mother snickered and proclaimed, “Here’s Letter People Land!” My face lit up as I rounded the corner in anticipation. To my horror I discovered the aftermath of a mass Letter People genocide, where all 26 deflated effigies lay piled on top of one another in a musty box.
It was a mortifying moment in my young life and for the moment I wished I had been alone.
(As a side note, the next year I saw my sweet old kindergarten teacher hastily smoking a cigarette in a dark corner at the now defunct Wal-Mart snack bar. The year was unraveling rather quickly.)
Needless to say, the Letter People and I were through. And this was probably for the better.
But 20 years has passed, and maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder, or we just become old and forgetful. Either way, I finally mustered up the courage to do a quick Google search to see what my old friends were up to.
Upon glancing at the Letter People’s Wikipedia page, it appears as if the program has been revamped, allowing some of the female characters to become consonants while also removing some of the negative characteristics and junk food references. The revisions will undoubtedly provide you with a good chuckle.
After perusing this list, I strolled on over to the publisher’s website, and not surprisingly, they’re still trying to push this ragtag group of literary misfits. One slide informs potential buyers that:
“The Letter People enhance social development. The Letter People characters provide models for how to resolve conflicts and see the world from another’s point of view.”
I suppose they’ve come a long way. Back in my day, I only learned how to effectively insult those around me while simultaneously abusing the use of alliteration.
With that being said, I feel like I’ve done my job in introducing the Letter People. But the original question still remains – Are the Letter People a viable option for teaching young children to read? Please discuss this among yourselves while I step aside and take a page out of the original Quiet, Quiet Mister Q’s book, when he came to give us a few quick quotes:
(Sung). Whistles blowing, wheels going, Cows are mooing, clocks cuckooing… So much to be heard. But Mister Q? Not a word.