Who was the Author of The Ginn Basic Readers?

Think back to first grade: did you read My Little Red Story Book or My Little White House? Read on!

Ginn Basic Reader – My Little Red Story Book

This was years before the 1980s when reading education began with index cards labelling each item in the house such as “table” and, if the parents could find a way to attach the card, “dog.” And yes, I babysat for a couple in 1981 who did exactly this – everything in their house had an index card so that their 8-month old would learn to read.

But rewind a bit: from 1948 through at least the 1970s, American children learned to read with the Ginn Basic Readers, including: The Little White House, My Little Red Book, My Little Blue Book, etc series, following the antics of Tom, Betty, Susan and Flip the dog.

From My Little Red Story Book, by Odille Ousley

I started My Little Red Story Book in the first grade, not realizing that the actual first book in the series was My Little White House. The books each teach a list of words to primary readers, using repetition to reinforce spelling and definition; words such as “airplane” accompany an illustration of Tom playing with his toy airplane.

From My Little Red Story Book by Odille Ousley

As a child, I loved these books and recall thinking that the “bigger” kids who had already moved on to titles such as Around the Corner and We Are Neighbors must be highly accomplished readers. But I never thought of the origin of these books; I just remember hundreds of scattered copies about my elementary school, which had been built in the mid-1950s.

Around the Corner by Odille Ousley

Criticism would be just in stating that these books were not inclusive – they included Caucasian characters only and no one had a disability. But as primary readers, they were simple and clear. Illustrations did include, as did the brief “stories,” a dog, a cat, a bunny and toys that were appealing to children of the Eisenhower (and, in my case, Nixon) era. That said, I used the books to teach my sons basic reading words when they were small, which was after George W. Bush’s inauguration, and they enjoyed them just as I had.

Where did these books come from? Who thought up Tom and Betty and little Susan?

Little is known of the author of the Ginn Basic Readers.

Her name was Odille Ousley, and though she was a teacher, she did not instruct elementary school-aged children.

Odille Ousley was the daughter of Thomas Ousley, a struggling farmer and grocer and his wife, Mamie. Miss Ousley was born in Georgia on October 19, 1896 and spent her primary years on her father’s farm near the community of Howard in Bibb County with an older brother and younger sister.

By the age of 24, she was supporting her entire family on her teacher’s salary. Subsequently, she moved out of the family home to teach at the Atlanta Normal Training School, a two-year teachers school which closed after 1924.

Ousley spent the 1930s at another teacher’s college – this time the Pennsylvania State Teacher’s College in Slippery Rock where she boarded on campus.

Odille Ousley, 1930 Slippery Rock State Teacher’s College annual.

Though she taught at the college level, Ousley was already interested in the reading development of children in early grammar school as she hosted discussions on social studies and poetry for the primary grades during a program for education at the high school in Slippery Rock in the mid-1930s.

Ousley spent the later part of her career teaching at the University of Georgia, but she also began writing the series of primary readers, working with colleagues such as David Harris Russell, a Fulbright Fellowship holder who had spent years studying and writing on the development of reading skills in children in the early grades of grammar school.

The first books were published in 1948 by Ginn and Company, with several others published over the next two decades – see a partial bibliography below. She worked with several illustrators – most commonly Ruth Steed who illustrated Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.

To continue her work in children’s education beyond her own lifetime, Ousley funded a scholarship through the Delta Kappa Gamma Society – an organization of women educators – at Georgia State University.

Odille Ousley died at the age of 80 years on Halloween 1976. She is buried at the Oaklawn Cemetery in Fort Valley, Georgia with the simple inscription: “Beloved Daughter, Aunt, Author and Teacher of Children.”

Ginn Basic Readers Series (perhaps not in order, as my research found conflicting reports on the exact order)
The Little White House – 28 editions, 1948-1969
On Cherry Street – 24 editions, 1948-1996 – first reader of the Ginn Basic Reader Series
My Little Red Book Story Book – 21 editions, 1948-1984
My Little Blue Book – 63 pgs, 22 editions, 1948-1984
My Little Green Book – 21 editions, 1948-1984
Open the Gate
Around the Corner – 22 editions, 1948-2000
We Are Neighbors (purple edition) – 23 editions, 1948-1966
Finding New Neighbors (orange edition)

As well as:
Under the Apple Tree – 10 editions, 1953-1968
Come with Us – 9 editions, 1952-1968
Ranches and Rainbows
V is for Verses – 2 editions published in 1964
My ABC Book – 1962
Mr. Bear’s Bow Ties
Joyful Times by Clarence Stone and Odille Ousley


US Census records for 1900 and 1910 Bibb County, Georgia.
US Census record for 1920
US Census record for 1930
American Psychological Association Newsletter April 1965, Vol 2, No 2
Lambda Chapter Weekly of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society of Psi Georgia State
Atlanta History Center, Lee Street School Papers
1934 Nov 16 – New Castle News – New Castle, PA: “Program for Institute is Now Complete: Teachers of Lawrence County Will Have Second Institute Session on Saturday”

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