The Houghton Mifflin Readers (1971): Cover Gallery

Beginning in 1971, when the first edition was published, untold numbers of U.S. schoolchildren worked their way through The Houghton Mifflin Readers (HMR). They were the core of my hometown’s elementary school English curriculum at least into the 1980s, and as recently as 2008, I saw classroom sets of two of the series’ volumes in an elementary school. 

I don’t know how widely they were adopted or how long the school systems that invested in them kept them at the core of the English curriculum, but the population of Americans who spent years with this textbook series must be large. And based on the response of some of my friends when I show them the books now, they left a very deep imprint.

However, despite being a culturally shared text with an extensive reach, HMR has long since vanished, as textbooks inevitably do. I’ve managed to track down all but the final volume, Diversity. As I never got that far in the series, I guess this is fitting. I am not worthy. 

HMR must have been one of the first large-scale renovations of the public school reader in the post-1968 United States. I was being taught with Dick & Jane style books the year before my school system adopted HMR in 1972.

The series included excerpts from some classic texts (and probably helped make or keep them canonical), such as The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte’s Web, The Pushcart War, and The Little Prince. But what is most striking about the series is its concerted effort to be culturally relevant – to be of its time, to correct the record, and to look forward – just three years after the King and Kennedy assassinations, in the midst of the Vietnam War, during the early days of a new youth culture.

As a result, the series is heavily focused on ethnic and class diversity, urban settings, social and environmental concerns, narratives of liberation, fantasy and science fiction, and an increased respect for kids as creatures with genuine interiority. Grammar instruction comes with speech bubble cartoons. The graphic influence of psychedelia is apparent in the interior illustrations and in the design of each volume’s distinctive graphic identity. The titles alone are a timestamp: Signposts, Panorama, Images, Diversity, Galaxies, Serendipity

Those were different times. The series, its gestation, and its editors deserve close study in that context. (The series editor was William K. Durr.) However, this gallery is not that study. The only objective here is to blow the minds of anyone who spent time with these books in elementary school and hasn’t seen them since. 

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21 responses
Neato! I remember all of these!
I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure there were three others in the series before 'Rainbows': 'Tigers', 'Lions', and 'Dinosaurs'. The circular grid on the spines that corresponds to the book's location in the series also suggest that 'Rainbows' was the fourth in the set.
Joel - yes! - "Tigers," "Lions," and "Dinosaurs" were paperbacks for the youngest kids. They have a different format/look, and might have been carry-overs from early HM texts. Meanwhile, "Serendipity" and "Diversity" were added a few years later, presumably because students were finishing the original run, through "Galaxies."
i remember these books and i remember them being my first indication that i was being held back from progressing at my own rate! i remember starting with kaleidescope and images after to moving to a predominately white school in northern atlanta, and i seem to remember wanting to go on to galaxies but not being allowed to do so. are the books broken down into grade levels? that is not a clear recollection for me. LOVE seeing these again, though. wow.
I learned from these books through elementary wondering if anyone knows where one might be able to read these books online ? Or do you have to buy them ?
I loved reading these books in fourth grade! They were such a hip, cool, mod way to read great stories and poems from many different cultures. One question: in which book(s) were the selections "Unusual Books by Unusual Authors," "Hinky-Pinky," "The Real Tom Sawyer," and a selection from Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer"?
Today I googled "Serendipity grade school textbook" and found this page. Wow. We had these reading books in Chicago Public Schools. I had most of these, but not all. "Serendipity" was my book in 5th Grade. I have a copy of "Signposts" at home. I remember "Panorama" and "Fiesta". I am a graphic designer by trade and the cover artwork for these textbooks is mind-bending. Very heavy psychedelic influences. If I remember correctly, the artwork is thematic for each text and runs throughout the books on the section pages. Looking forward to cracking open Signposts in a few days. Really interested in getting a copy of "Galaxies".
I remember reading all of these books in grade school. Panorama was my favorite. I would love to have these for my grandchildren. Is there a way to purchase them?
Could you please help me find the name of a book that was in either Odyssey or Galaxies about a city underground where the protagonist is a boy who finds a way up to the surface and discovers people are living up there. I have been searching for years for the name. Thank you, Kathleen.
Kathleen, the story is in "Galaxies" (p. 81-90): "Surreal: 3000 A.D.," by Suzanne Martel.
Was Rainbows used in Grade 1? What books were used to teach reading back in the 70-s? Thank you.
Anyone remember 'Hooray for Jasper,'? Story of a boy determined to get that guitar in the store window. How about Three Billygoats Gruff. We did a puppet show for our parents in the classroom. No More Bozos?
Too Many Bozos. I remember being disappointed in not making the next reading group. Told I couldn't keep up with some friends. Separated out. When I had the chance I read it with difficulty but so did they. 25 to a classroom. I think they were given extra attention from the teacher. Can still smell the fresh copies printed with questions to answer. SAUSAGE FACTORY INDUSTRIAL LOOKING SCHOOL. WDNN EDUCTION.
Level 1. Getting a head start [Readiness]--level 2. Getting ready to read [Pre-reading]--level 3. Tigers, Lions, Dinosaurs [Preprimers l-3]--level 4. Rainbows [Primer]--level 5. Signposts [grade 1]--level 6. Secrets [grade 2A]--level 7. Rewards [grade 2B]--level 8. Panorama [grade 3A]--level 9. Fiesta [grade 3B]--level 10. Kaleidoscope [grade 4]--level 11. Images [grade 5]--level 12. Galaxies [grade 6]--level 13. Serendipity [grade 7]--level 14. Diversity [grade 8].
Which one has a story about a planet where it always rains, and the sun only comes out like once a year, and one girl had seen it before (said it looked like a penny) and the kids teased her and locked her in a closet and so the poor girl missed seeing the sun?
Marco, that story is "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury, and on Venus it rains for seven years and the sun comes out for two hours every seven years. The girl, Margot, had seen the sun while living on earth before moving to Venus, and the children don't believe her because they are not yet seven years old and haven't yet seen the sun firsthand. The story contains a strong message about prejudice, not believing something until you see it for yourself. I don't remember which book it came from, but you can read the story here:
Awesome Todd...thanks. I have a three-year old and three month-old daughters, and I have gone eBay and Thriftbooks crazy. I now have Dinosaurs, Lions, Rainbows, Rewards, and Panorama, with Secrets, Fiesta, Images, and Galaxies on the way. Does anyone remember a story about a kid who gets a half-operation so he can breathe underwater? I don't know if that's in a Houghton Mifflin, though. Also, one where a kid is able to tame animals. Thanks for all the memories.
Greeti gs from Persia Charming memories coming back to me... dont know how but when i was 10 i got these books to improve my english on... in Iran... rly love to read and turn their page once more... pdf/scan... anything... :}
So many good memories reading this book series at John Wister Elementary in Philadelphia in the early 70s. My love for reading was born in these books! Now in 2019, my 6yr old comes home with worksheets, but no books! Anyway, I used Amazon, ebay and to recreate this set for my little man. Like another posted, I can't locate the last volume "Diversity". Also like him, I never got that far in the series, only to "Serendipity" . I' m grateful to have found what I have and hopefully they'll all arrive before Christmas 2019 to put under the tree. Thanks for this site!
O. Rivers, the secret to finding a copy of Diversity is that all the listings say "Diversity workbook" - but it's actually the textbook itself. I think the same flawed description has been copied and used by everyone selling the book.
12 Dec. 2019 - John Hilgart, thank you so very much! I saw that very same offering on last night and passed it by. I'll head back there now. Btw, "Secrets" just arrived on my porch today from Amazon. Opening up the pages and seeing the illustrations again got me all teary eyed... Thanks again for the heads up!