“J” is for “John, Jean, and Judy”

In the 1950s and 1960s, while public school kids were reading the adventures of Dick, Jane, and Sally (DJS), parochial school tyros were following John, Jean, and Judy (JJJ). I haven’t compared the two series personally, but apparently JJJ were living their counterparts’ lives. JJJ originated in the 1940s, when a crusading Rev. John A. O’Brien, Ph.D., tinkered with the DJS stories, keeping the original book titles and character names but adding or creating moral or religious themed stories more in line with Roman Catholic values. By the 1950s, for some reason (copyright issues, perhaps?) his characters were reborn as JJJ.

Rev. O’Brien’s career as a children’s book author was very much in line with his main passions, Catholic education and conversion. In fact, his contribution to the world of children’s literature is primarily a footnote in his life. Beginning with the 1938 publication of his best seller “The Faith of Millions,” he wrote 45 books and hundreds of pamphlets and articles espousing Catholicism. He taught the first accredited courses in religion while earning his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, where he remained for 22 years. Thereafter, he spent the rest of his life teaching and writing at the University of Notre Dame, devoting hectic summers to conversion campaigns in 50 American dioceses and preaching throughout the South. The late Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, former President of Notre Dame, said “perhaps no priest in the history of the Church in America was responsible for more Catholic converts.”

Of course, Rev. O’Brien’s proselytizing meant nothing to six-year-old me when I first encountered JJJ at St. Cecilia’s School. I came from a home with plenty of Catholic books and had learned to read our copy of the Little Golden Book Life of Jesus. While I was impressed that JJJ had a character named Judy, the JJJ reader wasn’t as impressive as the Nancy Drew library books I hid under my desk.

Choosing my own reading material was relatively easy, since upwards of 50 kids were packed into 1950s classrooms. Alphabetic seating meant I was usually in the middle or back of the room; out of sight of prying nuns’ eyes. Unfortunately, I blew it for myself because I basically talked/whispered non-stop to everyone around me. My alphabetic seat wasn’t enough to protect me from being moved to the front of the classroom under the nun’s nose. Never later than Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, I still remember my Nancy Drew stories but not JJJ.

Written for the A to Z Challenge and for these prompts: #YDWordPrompt tyro; The Daily Spurs’ rebirth; Word of the Day Challenge hectic; and Fandango’s #FOWC never. Research materials include The University of Notre Dame’s archives, Find A Grave memorial; Library Things’ Cathedral Basic Readers series description, and, of course, Wikipedia

9 thoughts on ““J” is for “John, Jean, and Judy”

  1. I never got moved up to where the nuns could see me. I blended right into the middle. I was taught but the Felician Sisters for grade school and School Sisters of Notre Dame in high school.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s funny, I went to Catholic school in the 1960’s and I thought I had Dick and Jane. That was a long time ago though so maybe I just don’t remember. Maybe I’m thinking of my kids, who went to public school.

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    1. As far as I can figure out, not all Catholic schools used JJS. I guess it was up to the individual diocese. Also, you might have been using out-of-date books. In the mid-60s we had geography books that referred to “Palestine,” as if Israel hadn’t been an independent state since 1948.

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  3. I don’t think I’d heard of that series before. I can relate to preferring my own reading material over the stuff assigned in elementary school, having always read several grade levels up and usually finishing assigned books well in advance. My school did the HBJ Bookmark Reading Program for at least the earlier years. I remember one book, possibly in first grade, was called Sun and Shadow, with two dogs on the cover.

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