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Queensland School Readers

The Queensland School Readers are fondly remembered by many in the community as the Red Readers. They were introduced into schools in 1915 after a long search for reading material appropriate to Queensland. This was the first time a set of readers was specifically written for Queensland school children.

Teachers relied on several different series of readers including the Irish National Readers, Australian Readers and the Royal Readers, before the publication of the first Queensland School Readers.

The Readers and their predecessors were used to teach thousands of Queensland children to read. The choice of stories within the Readers was therefore crucial to encouraging success in literacy.

Along with the skill and love of reading, the aim of the Readers was to encourage the development of good character. The content of the Readers consequently include a treasure trove of facts, moral tales, fables and poetry that reflect the values and concerns of the times in which they were written.

The end of the Queensland School Readers came in the 1970s when schools began to select reading materials from a range of reading schemes.

The Queensland School Readers are out of print and currently not available for purchase.

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Introduction of the Queensland School Readers

The Queensland School Readers Books I-VI ('Red Readers') were published in 1913 and first used in schools in 1915 together with the new syllabus. The Readers: Books I-VI were used from Classes One to Six in the primary school and were supplemented by appropriate School Papers. These and later editions continued to be used in Queensland schools for approximately sixty years.

The Readers featured:

  • classic stories from English literature
  • adventure stories
  • accounts from British, Australian and Queensland history
  • biographies of significant figures in history
  • traditional fairy tales
  • poems
  • health lessons
  • stories encouraging the development of good character.

Public reaction to this series was very favourable. The Premier, D F Denham privately told the Minister for Public Instruction that he was 'charmed with the matter and get-up'. The content of the Readers was also well received by teachers and pupils alike.

After 1914, new syllabuses were introduced in 1930, 1952 and 1964. The 1930 syllabus rearranged the structure of primary school classes into a Preparatory Grade followed by Grades One to Seven. The Queensland School Readers were modified to reflect the new grade structures. The Little Primer and The Little Reader, Parts I and II were used by teachers with the youngest children while the Readers expanded to seven books.

Page extract from a Preparatory Queensland School Readers book. Page contains some basic instructions for understanding letters and simple words.

Photograph: The series of four Preparatory Readers were introduced to meet the needs of Grades 1 and 2.

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The contents of the Readers tended to vary from edition to edition. Content judged to be valuable in the first series was retained in the next edition, while new material was added and the order of lessons rearranged. From 1930, the illustrations in the books included colour plates to make the books more attractive to children. A list of stories with their most difficult words featured at the end of each book.

Picture of an old sea captain.

Photograph: A colour plate illustrating the poem A Dutch picture by Henry Longfellow.

The number of Grades increased by one to eight in 1952 which necessitated a corresponding increase in the number of Readers to eight books.

The aim of the Readers

The Readers had several broad goals including:

  • instilling in pupils a lifelong love of literature
  • providing useful information
  • encouraging the art of reading aloud
  • teaching pupils to use and write good English

The stories and poems were chosen to:

  • encourage virtues such as honesty, obedience, bravery and courage
  • provide information about a range of subjects including nature study, early Australian history, significant figures in history
  • encourage children to read and enjoy traditional tales such as Jack and the beanstalk, Cinderella
  • inform children of heroic deeds in short biographical stories including one on Grace Darling

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The content of the Queensland School Readers

The authors of the Readers encouraged the development of good character through stories and poems. 'Integrity in word and deed is the backbone of character' while truthfulness and goodness formed the 'essence of character'. A good temper was encouraged as a 'gift from heaven' while disobedience and boastfulness were shown to have dire consequences.

Another feature in the Readers were poems and stories about the paramount role of a mother in a child's life. They praise a mother's love, her 'untiring hands', and her patience, 'seeking not her own'.

The Australian and Queensland content in the Queensland School Readers had increased compared with the Royal Readers. Such content included The Australian flag, Water in a thirsty land, Where the coral lies, Droughts, Some Queensland goldfields, The Great Barrier Reef, Creeks out west, Australia, Chillagoe caves, Aboriginal rock pictures, A bush fire, The ascent of Bellenden Ker, The Australian Alps, Three Australian poets.

Page extract from Queensland School Readers book. Page contains content entitled 'Some Queensland Goldfields' and a picture showing the view of Poppet-head, Gympie.

Photograph: There was an increase in the Australian content in the Queensland School Readers. Less common was content relating to Queensland.

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Other timeless stories and poems included The little match girl, Gelert, Florence Nightingale, A Christmas carol and Robinson Crusoe and Friday.

Page extract from a Queensland School Readers book. Page contains a picture of a Koala and its offspring.

Photograph: Stories and descriptions of Australian animals including the emu, possum and koala, featured more frequently in the Queensland School Readers.

The end of the Queensland School Readers

The Queensland written and published Prep 1-4 Readers, which were part of the Queensland School Readers were phased out in the 1950s with the restructuring of primary education including the end of the Prep grades. They were replaced by the Happy Venture Readers which had been written by Professor Fred Schonnell, while still in England with Irene Sargent and Phyllis Flowerdew, Goldsmith College (part of University of London).

The remaining Queensland School Readers including books for Grades I - VIII were phased out in the 1960s and 1970s. Wide Range Readers followed the latter Readers for a time. However, schools began selecting their own reading materials from a range of schemes including the Endeavour Reading Scheme, PM Readers, Reading 360 and the Mount Gravatt Reading Scheme during the 1970s.

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Last reviewed
10 January 2013
Last updated
10 January 2013