The Letter People
The Letter People is a children's literacy program. The term also refers to the family of various characters depicted in it.
Elayne Reiss-Weimann and Rita Friedman created the concept of Letter People as teachers in Nanuet, New York. In 1964, first-grade teacher Reiss-Weimann formed the original idea for the Letter People. She had struggled daily to draw the attention of her 24 students (who were typical first-graders, eager and rambunctious) in a distraction-fond hallway classroom at the overcrowded school. Weimann collaborated with an early childhood coordinator, Rita Friedman, to create an educational program that revolved around 26 anthropomorphic characters, each representing a letter of the alphabet, to teach beginning readers how to "decode" or "sound out" the consonants and vowels that form words. They embodied the basic rules of phonics into stories about this clan of make-believe pictograms called the Letter People.
Each letter of the alphabet had a distinct characteristic to help children learn not only the letter but the sound the letter represents in the written word. For example, Mister M has a munching mouth, Mister N has a noisy nose and Mister T has tall teeth. The characters were painted on large, two-dimensional portrait cards. Each character was given an engaging personality to help the teacher bring her or him alive in the classroom, and each character had a song (or a poem at the time) to help children recall the distinguishing feature and sound. With the help of the Letter People, children remained on-task, learned more quickly, and retained what they learned. From the beginning, the children viewed the Letter People like real people and not just letters of the alphabet, phonics devices, or toys. On one occasion, when the Letter People had to be shipped to another school, the children insisted that holes would be placed in the boxes so that the Letter People could breathe as they traveled.
Weimann and Friedman later sold the idea to New Dimensions in Education, Inc. (based in Plainview, New York, and later in Norwalk, Connecticut) which, in turn, copyrighted and published The Letter People educational products in 1968. NDE developed the concept into classroom programs: Alpha One in 1968, and Alpha Time in 1974.
In Alpha Time, the two-dimensional portrait card characters were made into three-dimensional, inflatable, child-sized vinyl characters commonly known as "The Huggables", which were large enough for small children to hug (though there were smaller-sized Huggables as well). Eventually, Alan J. Pratt, Ph.D., a director and vice-president of NDE, Inc. approached KETC-TV, a PBS affiliate in St. Louis, Missouri, about creating a TV series based on the escapades of the Letter People. After five pilot programs were produced, Dr. Pratt approached the Council of Great City Schools (the 20 largest school districts in the US). Eventually, with the cooperation of the superintendents of the Council, NDE, and KETC-TV, a joint venture commenced. The series comprised sixty 15-minute episodes that became extremely popular nationwide with children who were learning to read. To ensure phonetic and linguistic accuracy in the television production process, Ruth Lerner from NDE served as the Editorial Supervisor. Pratt was the Curriculum Consultant for the TV series. Tom McDonough of KETC-TV was the series' writer-director.
The program's basic concept was simple: Each letter of the English alphabet was represented by a unique character with traits derived from itself. The consonants were males (as the Letter Boys) and the vowels were females (as the Letter Girls, whom there could be no word without). Reiss-Weimann and Friedman also wrote two series of books about the characters, Read-to-Me (1972-1978) and Fables from the Letter People (1988-1989), and also hired Liz Callen to illustrate the latter books. Each Letter Person also had an accompanying song (available on cassettes and vinyl record), and inflatable vinyl effigies in two sizes 12 to 14 in (300 to 360 mm) or 30 in (760 mm) a.k.a. "life-size") known as "Huggables". Other merchandise included filmstrips, flash cards, giant picture cards, board games, and puzzles. Educators who adopted the program were trained in its implementation, and The Letter People was soon picked up by over 30,000 schools across the US.
Abrams and Co. Publishers, Inc. revamped the Letter People program in 1996. However, the original 1968 program still has thousands of adult fans who remember learning how much fun it was learning to read with the help of The Letter People.
While thousands of children were learning about the Letter People in school, thousands of others were being exposed to them through the television series based on the program. The show was produced by PBS member station KETC in St. Louis, Missouri, and the show first went into production in 1972. The show was extremely popular with children, and it quickly spread to other television stations across the country, via syndication, mainly to PBS and educational stations. The television series premiered on March 13, 1974, and ended on February 25, 1976.
The Letter People consists of 60 episodes. In each 15-minute installment, the Letter People (relatively primitive puppets) undertake various adventures in Letter People Land, a dark, featureless place populated by strange people and creatures. Episodes usually focus on introducing new Letter People or new sounds formed by combining two Letter People together (such as /CH/ or /OU/). Other episodes take the Letter People to more exotic (though still featureless) locales such as outer space (eventually, the show would include more standard scenery, like cityscapes, meadows, Miss O's opera house, etc.), while a few highlight the characters' conflicts over various sounds (such as Mister C fighting Mister K for his sound). Another common feature of the show is the Catching Game, which is a game show hosted by Monty Swell (who is a character based on Monty Hall) where the Letter People must form words by positioning themselves correctly side-by-side.
Opening and closing sequence
A little dog is minding his own business when various figures (including a female figure carrying a bunch of helium balloons) enter the gates of Letter People Land as the song plays:
- Come and meet the Letter People
- Come and visit the family
- Words are made of Letter People
- A, B, C, D, follow me
- Meet Mister M (March 13, 1974)
- Meet Mister T (March 13, 1974)
- Meet Mister F (March 16, 1974)
- Meet Mister H (March 20, 1974)
- Meet Mister N (March 20, 1974)
- Meet Mister B (March 23, 1974)
- Meet Miss A (March 27, 1974)
- What's the Catch? (March 27, 1974)
- The Tryout (March 30, 1974)
- The Catching Game (April 3, 1974)
- Meet Mister Z (April 3, 1974)
- Meet Mister P (April 6, 1974)
- Meet Mister S (April 10, 1974)
- Meet Miss E (April 10, 1974)
- Meet Miss I (April 13, 1974)
- Meet Miss O (April 17, 1974)
- Meet Miss U (April 17, 1974)
- Meet Mister V (April 20, 1974)
- Meet Mister L (April 24, 1974)
- The Story of Mister V; The Story of Mister S (April 24, 1974)
- The Squoosh (April 27, 1974)
- Meet Mister D (May 1, 1974)
- Meet Mister G (May 1, 1974)
- Meet Mister C (May 4, 1974)
- Meet Mister K (May 8, 1974)
- The Story of Mister C and Mister K; Soft C (May 8, 1974)
- Meet Mister W (May 11, 1974)
- Long Vowel Sounds (May 15, 1974)
- Cooperation (Silent E) (May 15, 1974)
- Adjacent Vowels (Two Vowels Standing Side-by-Side) (May 18, 1974)
- Review I (May 22, 1974)
- Review II (May 22, 1974)
- Review III (May 25, 1974)
- Review IV (May 29, 1974)
- Meet Mister Y (May 29, 1974)
- Y as a Consonant and a Vowel (May 29, 1974)
- Meet Mister J (May 29, 1974)
- Soft G (January 7, 1976)
- Meet Mister R (January 7, 1976)
- Star Trip, part I (Ar) (January 10, 1976)
- Star Trip, part II (Or) (January 14, 1976)
- Star Trip, part III (Er, Ir, Ur) (January 14, 1976)
- Review V (January 17, 1976)
- Meet Mister X (January 21, 1976)
- Meet Mister Q (January 21, 1976)
- The Word Machine (Runaway Words) (January 24, 1976)
- Chewy Cherry Choo-Choo (Ch) (January 28, 1976)
- The Thing (Th) (January 28, 1976)
- Wh and Sh (January 31, 1976)
- Review VI (February 4,1976)
- The Ing Sound, part I (February 4, 1976)
- The Ing Sound, part II (February 7, 1976)
- Words in Parts, part I (February 11, 1976)
- Words in Parts, part II (February 11, 1976)
- Ou and Ow (February 14, 1976)
- Oi and Oy (February 18, 1976)
- Double O (Oo) (February 18, 1976)
- Au and Aw (February 21, 1976)
- Sentences, part I (February 25, 1976)
- Sentences, part II (February 25, 1976)
In 1990, Abrams & Co. Publishers Inc. of Austin, Texas, bought the rights to The Letter People from the previous owner, Norwalk, Connecticut-based New Dimensions in Education, Inc. At first, the company slightly revised the program considerably, such as adding lowercase letters to the back of each Letter Person (previously they had been placed on each character somewhat randomly), but in 1996, they gave the program a major update, completely redesigning the look of the characters (however, some Letter People keep half of their designs from their original counterparts) and the associated materials, and also made sweeping changes to many of the Letter People, especially over half of their genders themselves, most obviously equalizing the proportion of male to female characters (vowels are now distinguished by their ability to light up via "LetterLights," which appear as yellow suns on their right shoulders). The male characters' names changed from "Mister" to "Mr.", and the female characters' names changed from "Miss" to "Ms.". Most of the characters' associated characteristics were changed as well, such as all references to "junk food" being swapped for non-food-related characteristics (Mr. D's "delicious donuts" were exchanged for "dazzling dance", for example) and any Letter Person that Abrams deemed as expressing negative images being changed to be more positive (Mr. H's horrible hair became happy hair instead, Mr. R's Ripping Rubberbands became Rainbow Ribbons, and Mr. X was no longer all wrong and became different, but he was still mixed-up). New Letter People storybooks were written with an eye toward teaching conflict resolution and problem-solving skills. They used Alphakid A as their mascot.
The program is divided into three levels with increasing emphasis on phonics: Let's Begin with the Letter People for preschool, Land of the Letter People for kindergarten, and Lives of the Letter People for first grade. The program is currently taught to about 30 million children.
Though the program is generally well-received by educators, some have criticized its strong focus on phonics at the expense of other literacy-building techniques.
In the early 2010s, four new Letter People characters were added to the program in order to teach children Spanish. The four characters are Señorita Ch, Señor. Ll, Señorita Ñ and Señor Rr. The Letter People program, along with other Abrams learning programs, eventually became incorporated into the DIG Pre-K curriculum.
In May 2019, Abrams & Co. Publishers Inc was acquired by Excelligence Learning Corporation with The Letter People characters which were planned to being incorporated into subsidiary Frog Street Press. As of September 21, 2020, no new Letter People products are being produced, but the hand puppets and certain educational materials of the Letter People (as part of the DIG Pre-K program) are still available on Frog Street Enterprises' online store, while worksheets, flashcards and discontinued books of the Letter People are still available second-hand through other online stores such as eBay.
The Number Workers
Along with the original program of The Letter People, its mathematics-equivalent program The Number Workers was also created circa 1977. The Number Workers are referred to as the numerical cousins of the Letter People from a planet called "Number Workers World" and were created to help children learn not only about numbers, their sounds and how many there are in each number, but also symbols, mathematics, time, addition, and measurement. They range from numbers 1-9 with the odd numbers being males (as the Number Boys) and the even numbers being females (as the Number Girls). Each Number Person carries a number of objects to teach children how many there are to represent the number (such as Mister 1 having "only one of everything: a one-legged table, a one-legged chair, one microscope, one test tube and one clock with one hand"), and also represents the job they employ: Mister 1 as a scientist, Miss 2 as a doctor, Mister 3 as a pilot, Miss 4 as a construction worker, Mister 5 as a sports player, Miss 6 as a shape stacker, Mister 7 as an ice-cream salesman, Miss 8 as a photographer and Mister 9 as a magician. ( Note that the Number Workers are called "Number People" even though they are never referred to the Number People in the official program)
Unlike The Letter People, The Number Workers was lesser-known and had very few products, including an Alpha Math workbook and a Vinyl containing accompanying songs each Number Worker had.
The Number People
When The Letter People program was revamped in 1996, The Number Worker program was also revamped along with it. Along with it changing the name to the "Number People" instead of the "Number Workers." Featuring six males (Mr. 0, Mr. 2, Mr. 4, Mr. 5, Mr. 9, and Mr. 10) and five females (Miss 1, Miss 3, Miss 6, Miss 7, and Miss 8), with two new numbers introduced, which are 0 and 10. Each Number Person has the numeral placed to the top-right corner of his/her uniform, while a number word was also added to the back of each Number Person. A Spanish-language version was also available to teach the Spanish names of the numbers.
Place where the Letter People live
In the original 1968 program, the place where the Letter People live was originally a planet called "Letter People Land" but, when the program was revised in 1990, it was renamed the "Land of the Letter People." As the newly revised program in 1996 utilized the newer version of the characters, the name of the Letter People's residence still remained the same.
List of Letter People
|Original Program (1968)||Characteristic||Revised Program (1996)||Characteristic|
|Miss A||A'choo||Ms. A||A'choo|
|Mister B||Beautiful Buttons||Mr. B||Beautiful Buttons|
|Mister C||Cotton Candy||Mr. C||Colossal Cap|
|Mister D||Delicious Doughnuts||Mr. D||Dazzling Dance|
|Miss E||Exercise( Energy)||Ms. E||Exercise Energy|
|Mister F||Funny Feet||Ms. F||Funny Feet|
|Mister G||Gooey Gum||Mr. G||Gooey Gum|
|Mister H||Horrible Hair||Mr. H||Happy Hair|
|Miss I*||Itchy Itch(ing) (Incredible Inventor)||Mr. I||Impossible Inches|
|Mister J||Jumbled Junk||Ms. J||Jingle Jingle Jacket|
|Mister K||(Kaboom) Kicking (King)||Ms. K||Kaboom Kick(ing)|
|Mister L||Lemon Lollipops||Ms. L||Longest Laugh(ing)|
|Mister M||Munching Mouth||Mr. M||Munching Mouth|
|Mister N||Noisy Nose||Mr. N||Noisy Nose|
|Miss O*||Obstinate (Optimistic Optimist)||Mr. O||Opposite|
|Mister P||Pointy Patches||Ms. P||Pointy Patches|
|Mister Q||Quiet (Questions)||Mr. Q*||Questions (Quiet Questions)|
|Mister R||Ripping Rubberbands||Mr. R||Rainbow Ribbons|
|Mister S||Super Socks||Ms. S||Super Socks|
|Mister T||Tall Teeth||Ms. T||Tall Teeth|
|Miss U||Upsy-Daisy Umbrella||Ms. U||Unusual Umbrella|
|Mister V||Violet Velvet Vest||Ms. V||Vegetable (Velvet) Vest|
|Mister W||Wonderful Wink(ing)||Ms. W||Wonderful Words|
|Mister X||Mixed-Up||Mr. X||Different|
|Mister Y||(Yodeling) Yawning||Ms. Y||Yodeling Yawn(ing)|
|Mister Z||Zipping Zippers||Mr. Z||Zipping Zippers|
- Note: The characteristics of Miss I and Miss O changed after The Letter People television series entered production. Therefore, they are known by the names in parentheses on that program.
- Note: The characteristics of Mr. Q changed from "Quiet Questions" to just "Questions" to teach children that keeping your questions "quiet" will not answer them.
Original program (1968)
- Paul Evans - Mister F, Mister N, Mister S
- Bob McGrath - Mister K, Mister L, Mister Y
- Paul Soles - Mister X
- King Hall - Head Puppeteer
- Bob Kramer David Herzog - Assistants
- Joe René and Jacquelyn Reinach - Music Lyrics
- Ruth Lerner and Alan Pratt Ph.D. - Consultants
- Allan Trautman - Puppeteer, Mister C (voice), Mister K
- Gregg Berger - Mister Z (voice), Mister V (voice), Mister T (voice)
- Patrick Clear - Mister J, Mister R, various (voices)
- Joneal Joplin - Mister S and Mister G (voices)
- Tom Tichenor - Puppeteer/puppet designer
Revised program (1996)
- Yvonne Lewis - Ms. A
- Lenny Roberts - Mr. B (original)/Mr. M/Mr. N
- Frank Simms - Mr. B
- Ron Marshall - Mr. C/Cockatoo/Giraffe
- Bert Dovo - Mr. D
- Doris Eugenio - Ms. E
- Michelle Lewis - Ms. F (original)
- Jackie Presti - Ms. F
- Darryl Tookes - Mr. G
- Al Dana - Mr. H
- Paul Evans - Mr. I
- Holli Ross - Ms. J
- Damaris Carbaugh - Ms. K/Ms. S (original)
- Miriam Valle - Ms. L
- Shawn Elliott - Mr. O
- Florence M. Warner - Ms. P
- Paul Rolnick - Mr. Q
- Marlon Saunders - Mr. R/Mr. Z
- Emily Bindiger - Ms. S/Ms. Y
- Ellen Woloshin - Ms. T
- Annette Sanders - Ms. U/Caterpillar/Horse
- Vivian C. Cherry - Ms. V
- Robin Small - Ms. W
- Marty Nelson - Mr. X
- Annette Sanders - Ms. W
- Lenny Roberts - Mr. N/Mr. R
- Marlon Saunders - Mr. M
- Michelle Lewis - Ms. F/Ms. T
- Kathleen M. Fischer - Ms. P
- Stew Merritt - Mr. R (in "Catch a Rime")
- Paul Evans - Mr. I
- Katreese Barnes - Ms. A
- Doris Eugenio - Ms. S
- Al Dana - Mr. H
- Paul Rolnick - Mr. C
- Holli Ross - Ms. U
- Georgia Jones - Ms. E
- Bert Dovo - Mr. O
- Emily Bindiger - Ms. Y
- Lehr, Fran R. "Abrams Learning Trends: Research Foundations for The Letter People® Programs" (PDF). abramslearningtrends.com. Abrams & Company Publishers, Inc.; Learning Trends, LLC. Archived from the original on 2015-03-24. Retrieved 2020-01-31.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
- "The Huggables". Life Magazine. May 12, 1972.
- KETC Timeline
- "Spanish Puppets, Set of 4". abramslearningtrends.com. Archived from the original on 2018-08-20.
- People, Letter (6 April 2016). The Number People - Alpha Math Worksheets. ISBN 978-1530900046.
- "The Number People". Abrams & Company Education Products – Home of the Letter People. Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 30 May 2019.