Weekly Reader: An Important Part of Classrooms for Many Years

Weekly ReaderSeveral generations of Americans remember Weekly Reader as a source of news in the classroom.

The goal of the four- to eight-page weekly paper, which was distributed via the classroom, was to bring awareness to children of what was happening in the world, so that one day they might become daily newspaper readers.

Schools purchased the publication in bulk, and a nominal fee (about $2 in the 1950’s) was collected from parents to offset district charges. (Schools generally had money for those who could not afford it.)

The weekly was distributed on Friday afternoons, and must have offered a welcome relief to teachers who were ready for something to fill the final afternoon before the weekend. 

The First Issue of Weekly Reader

The first issue, published September 21, 1928 and primarily aimed at fourth graders featured a lead story about the childhoods of two presidential candidates in the 1928 election: Al Smith and Herbert Hoover. The headline read: “Two Poor Boys Who Made Good Are Now Running for the Highest Office in the World!”  As the publication evolved, it came to include a lead story, a regular column Weekly Readeron innovations as well as photographs, cartoons, discussion questions, and puzzles and games that were tied into current events in some way.

The company knew it had a hit on its hands when the circulation of the publication reached 100,000 during the first year and grew to a high of 13 million in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. It is estimated that two-thirds of American adults grew up reading My Weekly Reader. 

The Idea for Weekly Reader

The idea of creating a newspaper for children has been largely attributed to Eleanor M. Johnson (1892-1987), who had been an educator in York, Pennsylvania, before taking over as long-time editor in 1934.

The start of the publication actually pre-dated Johnson’s participation. As early as 1902 the American Education Press existed and distributed a weekly newspaper for high school students called Current Events.

In 1928, a salesman, Harrison Sayre of Columbus, Ohio, suggested the idea of distributing a simple newsweekly for elementary school students. He was soon on board at American Education Press to develop the publication.  Sayre established himself as managing editor and hired Martha Fulton, a writer for children, to work as editor.  Fulton began with the first issue (September 21, 1928) and remained editor for several years. In later interviews, Sayre gives Fulton a great deal of credit for coming up with the right formula for the weekly.

Eleanor M. Johnson, was Director of Elementary Schools in York,

Weekly Reader
Eleanor Johnson

Pennsylvania (1926-1930), when she was hired by My Weekly Reader, as it was then called, as a freelance editor of the back page. IN 1930 she moved to Lakewood, Ohio where she was assistant superintendent of curriculum. She continued on with AEP as a freelance editor.

In 1934 she was hired to be editor-in-chief of My Weekly Reader. She served in that capacity until 1966. When she retired, she continued to work as a consultant to the company.

 Viewpoint Closely Monitored

Weekly Reader was sometimes criticized for its narrow perspective on the world.  World War II was described to young readers as a time when “thousands of American men [in the Army] are learning to

Weekly Reader summer edition
summer edition

cook and sew.” The publication also touted one of the benefits of war being the development of many inventions that were being created in response to the needs of the time (butter that would not spoil, dishes that did not break if dropped, etc.)

Later, the Civil Rights movement was all but ignored, and while the Korean War was written about to some extent, the Vietnam War was avoided.  Clearly, controversy was avoided.

The Los Angeles Times quoted from a speech given by Eleanor Johnson in 1942 where she described the publication’s philosophy: “…We promise to do our share in guarding America’s children from the hazards of fear, tensions, and frustration and to contribute to emotional stability through the inspiration and reassurance that the carefully selected current content of My Weekly Reader brings to children. Ours shall be a positive philosophy of optimism.”

By the end of the 1950’s, different versions of the weekly paper weeklyreaderexisted for children in first through sixth grades. There were also curriculum-specific magazines for middle and high school students, including areas such as health, science, careers, reading, and writing.

In 2007, Weekly Reader Corporation became part of The Readers Digest Association. That company tried to create a viable online version but was unsuccessful.  In February 2012, Weekly Reader was acquired by its competitor, Scholastic. The publications have joined forces and are now re-branded as Scholastic News/Weekly Reader.

If you would like to share your memories of Weekly Reader, I would be delighted. Please use the comments section.

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84 thoughts on “Weekly Reader: An Important Part of Classrooms for Many Years”

  1. Pingback: Dick and Jane: Story of These Early Readers - America Comes Alive

  2. I grew up in the 1960’s and remember the excitement when our teacher told us that it was time to distribute the new edition of the Weekly Reader. I have particulary strong memories of the issue about the fire in Apollo 1. It’s too bad you can’t get PDF versions of past issues.

  3. Thank you for posting…I too remember. And yes, wouldn’t it be great if you could download certain issues?

  4. Well, my main memory of Weekly Reader is that, in first grade, I got in trouble for writing my name on mine in cursive instead of printing it. Had to spend three days of recess sitting in the classroom with my head down on my desk while the other kids went outside to the playground.

  5. Oh I am so sorry. I think most of us have had some sort of experience in school where we’re left thinking, “What?” Thank you for posting. It’s one of those things you never forget.

  6. My husband and I were reminiscing about our weekly readers today…can’t remember how it came up! He grew up in rural Wisconsin, I in suburban New York. Thank you for providing the answers on publication to satisfy our curiosity!

  7. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. When I was a kid, I certainly didn’t understand how Weekly Reader could truly impact lives. Today I read 3 newspapers…maybe Weekly Reader was the beginning.


  8. I remember looking forward to Fridays when I was in 3rd grade in the early 1950s. I still remember the Headlines such as Mt Everest being conquered for the first time.

  9. Ronald K. McHaney

    Just as I was beginning to recover from election angst, somebody apparently decided it might be fun to replace Ron’s missing angst by reminding me I’m old enough to remember the Weekly Reader…. :)

  10. I looked forward to reading My Weekly Reader in elementary school and would love to browse the 1964-1968 issues again. Are there no copies or online records of them anywhere? It was a wonderful time in school when the newspaper arrived. The news generated a lot of discussion in our classes. What fun!

  11. I have not found any online records. You might try your local library…otherwise, there are some random copies for sale on sites like ebay and Etsy… When I was double-checking so I could answer you, I noted that some people seem buy a few as gift for friends or family….a fun idea! Hope you are able to find one! Kate

  12. At the breakfast table I was thinking about how much I enjoyed the weekly reader in the 50’s in elementary school. Thanks for giving me a great look back.

  13. I, too, loved the Weekly Reader, as I remember enjoying reading about Prince Charles and Princess Anne who were close to my age. I am 70. Also, I was so excited to learn about Alaska and Hawaii when they became states. In high school, Current Events, was interesting to read in my American History class, with different views written about current events included in the editorial section. Then, when I became a teacher, my students liked the updated papers.

  14. How wonderful that you took the experience into your own teaching. Thank you for posting.


  15. I too remember the Summer Weekly Reader that was delivered to our house. I would roll it up, put it into the waistband of my shorts & climb the dogwood tree in the back yard to read it. That way my brother could not bother me !

    I also remember that my older sister subscribed to a magazine called Jack & Jill. They always had lovely front cover art.

  16. What a great memory…thank you for sharing it.

    And you’re right…I hadn’t thought of Jack & Jill in years!

  17. What a great treat to get ever week. Our school was a little disadvantaged I guess. As I remember we shared it at school and couldn’t take it home. Passing it from student to student in your row. Best memory was reading about the Dead Sea scrolls still being found. I believe first grade 1953.
    Many thanks!

  18. How wonderful that you have strong memories of it, and kudos to the school for figuring out a way for it to be shared with everyone. Thank you for posting.

  19. We burned all of ours behind the school with some old model airplanes and sparklers :(

  20. That is too bad. Today I hear from people who are looking for copies! It’s hard to judge the value of things when you’re living through an era.
    Thanks for posting.

  21. Kathleen Chojnacki

    I could hardly wait for each new Weekly Reader! I can’t remember what year we started getting them. First grade was 1958. It started my love of reading that continues to this day! I turned 70 this past week, and I have a Kindle packed full and more books than shelves! Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful school treat!

  22. I, too, am going back to Weekly Reader days lol with the space program. I am turning 80 May 1st. I’m not sure when it was posted but I would love for today’s youth to see the picture of what was to be our first space station. It was round in shape and I remember thinking how fantastic it would be to go to that space station. Do you know where we can find this article , in the early 50’s in the Weekly Reader?

  23. You post a great question…Random copies of Weekly Reader can be found on eBay that doesn’t offer a very efficient way to search for a story. (If any reader has suggestions, I welcome it!) But in the meantime, I’ve found a page that shows the circular station you describe. I do not have rights to post the individual photo, but you can certainly go to these listings to see it: https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk00GSffaOQV-0aEfXvUtEYssfuXOmw:1619281601959&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=images+skylab&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjG2bOFppfwAhX-FzQIHeclCfcQjJkEegQIBBAB&biw=1536&bih=722
    The Russians actually launched the first space station, the Salyut (1971). Skylab (1973) from the U.S. followed.

  24. I remember a cartoon strip called Squiffy Good Citizen the most. Wish I had just one copy of that little strip. I have called some of my friends who do volunteer work or public good works that name. I did, however, find that Squiffy actually means “slightly drunk”!!!

  25. I did not know that. I’m sure the editors at Weekly Reader would be horrified if they had ever realized! Thanks for posting.

  26. My husband and I both remember that in our WeeklyReader we were told that one day we would cook on paper plates, in a microwave. Really caught our attention Started 1st grade in 1948

  27. I seem to recall that my school district replaced Weekly Reader with a more news-oriented publication called something like Young Citizen that tilted right. Does anyone else remember something like that?

  28. Hi Ron,
    If we’re lucky maybe we will hear from someone else on this. I looked to see what I could learn, however. There is nothing descriptive about the “Young Citizen” publication other than on vintage ones being sold, but I found one Young Citizen that was produced by Scholastic and was to teach civics. Perhaps that was it? But then there is another listing for something that is more like a newspaper, also called Young Citizen. The lot being sold is from the 1950s, but of course, that may not fully describe what and when it was available. Thank you for mentioning this, and I hope that another reader may recall this other publication. Stay tuned!

  29. I have so many fond memories of the Weekly Reader I Friday afternoons! My all time favorite story was about the killer bees making their way to the US from South America.

  30. Thank you for posting. How terrific that you remember a specific story! And yes, Fridays…

  31. Could we order books from the Weekly Reader? There were books that I loved as a child and it seems like we ordered them vs. going to a bookstore.

  32. I don’t believe so, but other readers may have better memories on that. I believe the book ordering in schools was maintained by Scholastic. They ran the book fairs but they also handed out a 4-page sheet from which you could order.
    Does anyone else have a memory of ordering from Weekly Reader?

  33. This My Weekly Reader article (http://dreamsofspace.blogspot.com/2017/04/my-weekly-reader-oct-5-1959-weather-is.html) was likely responsible for my tree hugging tendencies. Additionally, based on this article indicating man had a role in global warming and climate change, My Weekly Reader was clearly an early purveyor of fake news, targeting the you innocent minds of children across our nation. Certainly among the first examples of the “lyin media” :-)

  34. Thanks for posting. Many people have wanted to retrieve copies of My Weekly Reader. Your source has actually found some copies of them. It is too bad they aren’t online.

    So you are no longer a “tree hugger?”

  35. Can you tell me if there was a Weekly Reader about the teacher that was picked to go into Space with the Challenger space shuttle? I have a clear memory of discussing this thoroughly when this was about to happen and then of course watching the disaster happen live with millions of other kids around the World. It was the second time as a child that I felt like my innocence was stolen if that makes sense. I also remember a Weekly Reader that talked about the Election when Ronald Reagan won. I don’t remember if we did a classroom VOTE on our own or if it took place using the Weekly Reader.

  36. Thank you for posting. Unfortunately, there is no way to search through an archive of Weekly Readers. Wouldn’t it be great if there were? So many people would like a peek back.

    The story about the teacher in space would have been a natural for Weekly Reader…and of course, no one knew it would end in disaster. Your memories of the topics covered are very likely to be exactly what the newsletter covered. Makes perfect sense.

  37. I remember so vividly reading about Walt Disney World and the Monorail. It didn’t look real to me and I could never imagine myself going. That must have been in 1971. I wish I could see a copy today!

  38. I hear you….I have had so many comments like yours. They are not easily available, though you know some are in attics all over the U.S. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to find them.

  39. I looked in my old scrapbook today and discovered an Original Weekly Reader that was printed in Dec. of 1963 as a Memorial edition for JFK after he was killed. I am sure it has no value, as I wrote my name on it, and it is folded. But a post on facebook today prompted me to look for it, and I am happy I found it safely tucked in an envelop in my scrapbook.

  40. That’s great. I have to tell you I have so many emails from people who would like to see a copy of My Weekly Reader. Yours with your name on it is of more value to YOU. Thanks for posting….you made my day!

  41. I remember the Good Citizen strip – I had never heard the word Citizen until then. Where has Good Citizenship gone in the classroom?
    Let’s bring it back!

  42. You are so right. Citizenship is an important value. I know lots of nonprofits are trying to find ways to get the message across. I’m sure schools do, too. It’s just hard with all the disruption.
    Thanks for posting.

  43. I have copies of The summer edition weekly reader from June 1964-Aug. 1967…
    49 issues In total. They have traveled from Wisconsin to California with me….
    Looking online for a place to sell them…..any ideas???.

  44. I have 49 copies of My weekly Reader from 1964-1967.
    Anyone interested in copies can contact me…$3.00 an issue plus
    mailing fee.

  45. Great idea…if someone posts here that they are interested, I will put the two of you in touch by email.

    If you don’t have much luck here, I would try eBay. But as you can see from all the previous comments, people are looking for copies! I’ll let you know if anyone gets in touch.


  46. It was 1955 give or take a year when my teacher spoke of an article in our weekly reader about the “new world order”. She said “this is coming”. Since this is a subject is now coming to be something discussed today I wish I could read what my weekly reader said about it. Can anyone help me locate the paper talking about this subject please? Thank you kindly. Lynne

  47. What a great memory you have….I’m getting this posted, and I hope a reader might help. I regularly search to see if any of the Weekly Reader information is ever posted, and unfortunately it is not.
    Yet you know in someone’s basement there is a collection of them waiting to be found!

  48. I worked for the Weekly Reader company from 1972-1984 and can tell you that behind Buddy Bear and his newsprint incarnations, there was a constant struggle with declining circulation due to changing teaching styles, student demographics, cultural change, more modern media, and reduced budgets. As such, the company, first owned during my tenure by Xerox Corporation (never did get the connection), then several investment firms, continually tried to find new revenue sources, including publishing a cooking cards program and other fare aimed at adult readers, sold through direct marketing programs. I suppose it was inevitable that WR ended in the hands of our chief competitor, Scholastic, whose publications tilted more toward popular culture, and which closed WR as a company down shortly after the purchase in 2012. Nevertheless, it’s great that in its 84 years of independent publishing, it created so many memories and was part of our nation’s history.

  49. Thank you so much for posting. As you can see from the number of comments, people have wonderful memories of Weekly Reader. You state its value perfectly: “it created so many memories and was part of our nation’s history.”
    As you can see, many people would like to see a copy of Weekly Reader again. I remain convinced they are still in attics somewhere…I hope all who are interested have a chance to glimpse one again!
    Thanks so much for your comments!

  50. Living in Alabama in the mid 1960’s I loved reading the Weekly Reader. I was especially impressed with one article about a “planned city”, Irvine, California. I don’t know why it impressed me, but I couldn’t have known then that five years later my family would move there!

  51. I love that! So great that you remembered it. It must have made moving all that much easier. Thanks for posting.

  52. Sputnik went into orbit in 1957 and was a huge event for America. The weekly Reader consigned this headline information to PAGE THREE of a four page rag. That’s when I knew the media overlords were in cahoots with the military industrial complex to suppress information, crushing it under their jackbooted heels to keep it from from the masses of 6 year olds.

  53. Ernie, as a former WR company editor, I can tell you that the kind of decision you mention came from the staff’s general provincialism, conservatism, and desire to include non-controversial topics for kids, not an order from the military-industrial complex. I doubt they even knew what and who were in the M/I complex nor how to reach them if they did.

  54. Thank you so much for commenting. My instinct was that this was the case, but I lacked the authority to explain it. This helps a great deal!

  55. My father wrote a few stories that were published in Weekly Reader when he was younger (60’s, 70’s) unsure of dates. I’m trying to find the magazine’s as a present but am not having any luck. Any advice?

  56. What a sweet and thoughtful idea! If you read through the other comments, you’ll see that many people are looking to find back issues of Weekly Reader. To my knowledge, it was not purposefully preserved by anyone. That said, you know there are copies in someone’s attic. You might try watching eBay to see if anything gets listed. A person has one or two copies likely has a collection.
    I know this is not very helpful, but each time I hear from a reader I poke around a little more and have yet to find anything. I’m so sorry!

  57. My Weekly Reader. What a fantastic brainstorm of an idea it was. It was always looked forward to and such an enjoyment in our classroom. Most our teachers distributed them early and from front to back, everything was discussed. What our little minds did not know about our teachers would explain. Throw out the school electronics on Fridays and bring back weekly reader

  58. I agree with all you have said. Because it’s in a newspaper format, it also lets kids get the sense of what it’s like to pay attention to a website for a newspaper.

    Thank you!

  59. I remember the Weekly Readers coming all rolled up in like a cylinder. If the teacher waited until distribution time to unwrap the bundle, they would not lie flat. I always wished teacher would flatten them first haha! I too remember sending in my sixty-five cents (or whatever) in order to receive Summer Weekly Reader in my mailbox!

  60. As l recall there was a list of vocabulary words on the front page. In October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis one of the words was “pre-war.” That memory is an important part of my story of that terrifying time. Is it an authentic memory (l was 10)?

  61. If you have that strong a memory of it, I would say that it was. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to find specific back issues of Weekly Reader. Other readers and I have looked. You would think someone has a collection in their attic, but I haven’t heard from anyone. And you’re right. What we learned from Weekly Reader was very influential to us at that time. Kate

  62. Our Mother passed in fall of 2002 and we moved into her home. It was a big job sorting things out, but one thing I did not go thru were a box of old pictures. Well my husband passed several years ago, I lived alone for 11 of those years ago, but finally got together with an old friend of 57 years and we married 1 1/2 years ago. I sold the home of my
    Mothers and we moved to Indiana. Long story short, I have finally got to the box of pictures and lo and behold I found Edition One..No. 1* (Week of September 12-16, 1955 (Disneyland). and also Sept. 19-23, 1955 and Issue – February 17-21, 1958. I am mailing them to my Brother, as they are the time when he was in school.

  63. Oh wow Linda! I’m very glad for your nice news, and as you can see from the comments, so many people would love to see an original Weekly Reader! How fun that you had the photos and the Weekly Readers. It was very generous of you to send them on to your brother. I’m sure he was thrilled.

    We all have so many memories about the impact Weekly Reader had on our lives. I’m amazed that we have not yet found a librarian or another type of collector who has saved every one. You know there are more copies in other attics.

    Thank you for sharing your fun news.

  64. For some reason tonight, out of the blue, came memories of my childhood schooling and suddenly I was back in Mrs. Daisy Atkinson’s third grade class in 1972. The first year of desegregation in SC. Mrs. Atkinson was a lovely woman with the most beautiful handwriting and my first African American teacher. Funny how we never noticed race at that young age. Anyway I remember reading about piping in water to me ake the deserts in the US livable, cloverleaf highways in California and cars that could also float like boats in lakes and rivers. So many excellent memories tonight and such sadness for todays generations that will never know the innocence and of a time when something so simple brought so many children such excited anticipation and knowledge of their young world that would stay with them for a lifetime. Ill be 60 next month but it was so nice to be 8 again back in Mrs. Atkinson’s third grade class at College Street Elementary with my Weekly Reader..even if only for a few minutes. If all those attic copies could only find their way to someone who could get them all together for an online library. What a joy it would be to re-read the stories that were written just for us and our times. Id read them every word. And by the way there was some connection to ordering books thru weekly reader. We would be given an order form to take home and for just a couple of quarters or so we could order paperback books to read at home. Im so thankful for all the memories this thread has added to the others I remembered tonight and so sad that such an excellent newspaper wont be remembered by the children of today. They say all good things come to an end. Well, some things just shouldnt.

  65. I loved Weekly Reader, and still remember some of my favorites from the lates 60s and early 70s.

    I would love to read them again. I wish I had saved them all!

  66. The Weekly Reader was always a good read. It made me look ahead. Reading an article about a plane that was going to be as big as a theater. Well, that was the 747. I remember reading about Haley’s comet in 1963 that will reappear in 1986.

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