The Letter People

My fondest Kindergarten memory
April 30, 2008
Kindergarten, those were the days. You went to class, played with toys, sang some songs, ate milk & cookies, took a nap and eased into your grueling life of education ahead of you. My teacher, Mrs. Sax, had a smile bigger than life. While my last memory of Kindergarten was her planting a big kiss on my cheek, my favorite memory was learning with the Letter People.

The Letter People were created in the 1970's by two women, Elayne Reiss-Weimann and Rita Friedman. The concept was simple, yet brilliant. A character was created for each letter of the English alphabet and each one had a specific trait that started with the letter it represented (e.g. - Mr. F had Funny Feet). The consonants were Letter Boys and the vowels were Letter Girls. The male-to-female ratio might seem askew, but this ensured that Letter Girls were in the vast majority of words created by the Letter People.

Below are the original Letter People (pre-1990's) that I was familiar with:

Original Letter People:
Miss A - A'choo
Mister B - Beautiful Buttons
Mister C - Cotton Candy
Mister D - Delicious Doughnuts
Miss E - Exercising
Mister F - Funny Feet
Mister G - Gooey Gum
Mister H - Horrible Hair
Miss I - Incredible Inventor
Mister J - Jumbled Junk
Mister K - Kicking
Mister L - Lemon Lollipops
Mister M - Munching Mouth
Mister N - Noisy Nose
Miss O - Optimist
Mister P - Pointy Patches
Mister Q - Quiet
Mister R - Ripping Rubberbands
Mister S - Super Socks
Mister T - Tall Teeth
Miss U - Upsy-Daisy Umbrella
Mister V - Violet Velvet Vest
Mister W - Wonderful Wink
Mister X - All Wrong (Mixed-Up)
Mister Y - Yawning
Mister Z - Zipping Zippers

In 1990, Abrams & Co. Publishers Inc. of Waterbury, Connecticut bought the rights to The Letter People and made sweeping changes to the program. Below is a poster of the revised character platform. At first glance you can see the appearance of each character is quite different. Also, many (but not all) of the characteristics associated with each Letter Person were revised. You'll notice in the red text below that any references to junk food were replaced. In retrospect, this made perfect sense for a program that intended to stimulate the learning process. Recent studies have shown that taking away junk food from an educational environment significantly increases concentration. Negative images were also eliminated, such as Mister H's Horrible Hair and Mister X being All Wrong. Also, a shortened approach was taken to each prefix - Mister became Mr. and Miss became Ms.

Revised Letter People:
Mr. C - Cotton Candy changed to Colossal Cap
Mr. D - Delicious Doughnuts changed to Dazzling Dance
Ms. E - Exercising changed to Exercise Energy
Mr. H - Horrible Hair changed to Happy Hair
Ms. I - Incredible Inventor changed to Impossible Inches
Mr. J - Jumbled Junk changed to Jingle Jingle Jacket
Mr. K - Kicking changed to Kaboom Kick
Mr. L - Lemon Lollipops changed to Longest Laugh
Ms. O - Optimist changed to Opposite
Mr. Q - Quiet changed to Questions Quietly
Mr. R - Ripping Rubberbands changed to Rainbow Ribbons
Ms. U - Upsy-Daisy Umbrella changed to Unusual Umbrella
Mr. V - Violet Velvet Vest changed to Vegetable Vest
Mr. W - Wonderful Wink changed to Wonderful Words
Mr. X - All Wrong (Mixed-Up) changed to Different
Mr. Y - Yawning changed to Yodeling Yawn
Mr. Z - Zipping Zippers[/size]
Note: The characteristics for Letter People A, B, F, G, M, N, P, S, and T all remained the same. On the television program, discussed later, Miss I was associated with Itchy Itch and Miss O was associated with Obstinate.

Each Letter Person has their own inflatable figure called a Huggable. Every now and then the class was treated to a new Huggable, each with its own song. It was the perfect blend of reality and imagination. I still remember singing along to the record and bouncing around on the carpet. My personal favorite was Mr. M's Munchy Mouth lyrics:
"I'm Mr. M, with a munchy mouth! My mouth must munch, munch, munch; my mouth has lunch, lunch, lunch! I munch from morning to midnight, midnight to morning; Munchy Mouth, I'm Mr. M! Meatballs, macaroni, mashed potatoes I adore! Marshmallows, maple syrup, melon, milk, there's room for more...for Mr. M with a Munchy Mouth. My mouth must munch, munch, munch; my mouth has lunch, lunch, lunch! I munch from morning to midnight, midnight to morning; Munchy Mouth, meet Mr. M! Milkshakes, marmalade, mayonnaise I adore! Muffins, mushrooms and molasses, more and more and more and more! I'm Mr. M, with a munchy mouth! My mouth must munch, munch, munch; my mouth has lunch, lunch, lunch! I munch from morning to midnight, midnight to morning; Munchy Mouth, I'm Mr. M, with a Munchy Mouth, I'm Mr. M! MUNCHY MOUTH!"

Examples of inflatable Huggable Letter People:

You'll notice that the two vowels above have what looks like a sunshine on their shoulder. The five vowels in today's Letter People are referred to as "Letter Lights." When a letter light is introduced, students know that the letter will make two sounds (long vowel and short vowel). The new system now consists of 13 males and 13 females, ensuring gender equality.
Before I was born, the Letter People had their own television series on a PBS station based in Missouri. The program was so popular that it was eventually syndicated to educational channels all over the country and many more children were exposed to this fun brand of learning. Each episode lasted 15 minutes and featured puppets roaming through Letter People Land (today known as "Land of the Letter People") usually introducing new Letter People or new sounds formed by combining two Letter People together. I never watched the show as a child, but thanks to YouTube I was able to relive the joy of being introduced to new Letter People. There you can find many episode clips, which contain the songs used in kindergarten classes across the U.S.

Come and meet the Letter People. Come and visit our family. Words are made of Letter People. A-B-C-D, follow me!

I went to school in a truly ethnic community, a melting pot, if you will. Abe Stark Elementary School (P.S. 346) in Brooklyn, NY was filled with children of all races and creeds. The beautiful thing about the Letter People was that they were nonethnic and, in a sense, belonged to all children. Where I grew up, this was great because the student body was so diverse and it gave us youngsters something we could all relate to. The program fostered emotional engagement (hence why I'm writing this article) that empowered our ability to unlock the English language.

Based on research and classroom testing, the Letter People program is a fun way tp introduce children to books, songs, hands-on activities and writing projects. Some of the targeted areas of learning with the Letter People include:
~ oral language
~ print awareness
~ phonological and phonemic awareness
~ alphabetic knowledge
~ word recognition
~ writing and spelling
~ vocabulary development
~ reading comprehension

Designed for budding minds aged 5-7, the Letter People give each letter of the alphabet its own personality. Thanks to them, I was given a jump start on phonics and an eagerness to read. They are also the sole reason I associate vowels with femininity, but maybe that's just me. If I ever have children, I hope they get to experience the Letter People in all their alphabetical awesomeness. Heck, I already bought the Alpha Time CD on eBay with all the songs. They'll be listening to Munchy Mouth in the womb. Sorry, Leslie...

The Letter People are truly retro in that they're some of my earliest childhood memories, a true piece of nostalgia.

Note: Abrams and Company runs the official website of the Letter People. If you're interested as a parent or a teacher, you can purchase all types of material from Huggables and puppets to music and books.
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