Dick and Jane were the central characters of a series of books for beginner readers featuring short sentences and much repetition. Originally introduced in the 1930s, the books fell out of favour in the 1960s, partly due to changing ideas about reading education that would favour more challenging fare like the books of Dr. Seuss, who created The Cat in the Hat to provide an alternative to Dick and Jane, and partly due to mounting criticism about the idealised world they depicted, but "Dick and Jane" remains a byword for the entire genre.
You can have a look at the format here.
It should be noted that the Dick and Jane books actually came in several graded levels, of which only the first was written in the classic "Dick and Jane" style. More advanced books had practically normal sentences. But where's the fun in that?
The UK equivalent was "Janet and John" and "Peter and Jane", the latter which is still in use as part of the reading curriculum in several commonwealth countries.
Tropes in the Dick and Jane books include:
- Beige Prose: A famous example. All the books are written in short, declarative sentences, with the vocabulary intentionally limited for beginning readers.
- Black Best Friend: After segregation was outlawed in the U.S., African-American characters Mike, Pam, and Penny were added as friends for Dick, Jane, and Sally.
- A Boy, a Girl, and a Baby Family: Siblings Dick, Jane, and Sally respectively fit this formula.
- Constrained Writing: Each book is written using only words from a specific vocabulary list chosen for each educational level. It shows.
- Department of Redundancy Department: For educational rather than comedic purposes, the idea being that seeing a word repeated enough would teach young readers to recognize it."See it go. 'Look,' said Dick. 'See it go. See it go up.' Jane said, 'Oh, look! See it go. See it go up.' 'Up, up,' said Sally. 'Go up, up, up.'"
- Everytown, America: The setting of Dick and Jane's hometown was kept intentionally nondescript so that children from all around the country could identify with it.
- House Wife: Dick and Jane's mother stays home and works in the kitchen, leading to some flak from the feminist movement in The '60s.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Let's just say we don't meet too many boys by the name "Dick" anymore...
- Nuclear Family: The main cast is a family with a mother, a father, three kids, a dog, and a cat, who live in a little house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, no less.
- Transatlantic Equivalent: Peter and Jane in the U.K. is pretty much their equivalent of this book series. However, unlike Dick and Jane, those are still widely in use in preschool curriculum in the U.K. and many other commonwealth countries.
- Unnamed Parent: The books refer to Dick's and Jane's parents only as "Father" and "Mother".