Afton Publishing Company began, as most companies do, to fill a need. The need was for something for fourth graders to learn about their state — something more than pictures of violets and goldfinches. John T. Cunningham accepted the challenge. He enlisted the aid of Frank Ritzer, an elementary school principal at Fielding School in Maplewood. The result was a 96-page activities text, On the go in NEW JERSEY.
The year was 1970. The place was Florham Park. The company was called Afton Press. The Afton comes from Afton Village, the name Florham Park went by until 1899. (Afton Press became Afton Publishing Inc. when it incorporated in March 1973 and Afton Publishing LLC in October 2009.)
On the go in NEW JERSEY was, for the same reasons it is today, a great success. Not to be called a workbook, this unique consumable text is filled with a mix of fun, facts, and research challenges that allow children to actually enjoy learning about their state. Along the way, they acquire a fierce pride in where they live. Co-authors (as the book calls the students) of On the go in NEW JERSEY defiantly defend their state against the insults it so often receives! Instilling pride in New Jersey continues to be a major goal of our program. We believe this adds to a child’s self-respect and confidence.
In 1972, Afton Press produced the 192-page hard cover text, YOU, NEW JERSEY AND THE WORLD. The New Jersey Historical Society helped support this project. It had ten chapters, called Magic Carpets — a reinforcement of the text’s theme of student power and imagination. It was profusely illustrated with child-friendly drawings. As in On the go in NEW JERSEY, Mr. Cunningham’s energetic dog, Duffy, romped through the pages. (Yes, Duffy is based on a real dog. She was Mr. Cunningham’s delightful family mutt.)
Map Charts and filmstrips soon followed. The bright, attention-grabbing map charts are still a central component of our program. New Jersey’s prehistoric life appears on Where Dinosaurs Roamed. Original People shows Lenape life, places, and tribes. Under Many Flags illustrates early exploration. Revolution’s Crossroads depicts important sites of battles and war activities. Zero-in on New Jersey filmstrips and cassettes offered review and additional facts on the state’s variety (geography, history, economy, people), “firsts,” the Lenape, waterways, and legends and lore. On the reverse of each cassette, a mini-course offered a wealth of further information about the subject.
The first map chart set became Historic when Made in New Jersey, Grown in New Jersey, Fun in New Jersey, and Travel in New Jersey debuted as Modern Map Charts a few years later. Updated over the years, the charts depict what the names foretell — New Jersey’s industrial products, crops, recreational areas, and transportation.
Trips on Film brought students to Morristown, Batsto, Edison’s laboratory, Trenton, and selected spots from High Point to Cape May. Mr. Cunningham again shared additional information in mini-courses on the flip side of each cassette.
A secondary text, New Jersey: A Mirror on America came out in 1978. 356 pages offered the state’s history and consequently much US history. Time lines compared NJ and US events. Photographs, drawings, maps, newspaper headlines, and sidebars made for an easy-to-read, informative book. (This text has been updated. The current edition takes you up through the Corzine election.)
Mr. Cunningham’s son, Jay, took over ownership of the company in 1980 and moved it to Andover. Shortly after that, YOU, NEW JERSEY AND THE WORLD received major alterations. The 1981 edition grew to 208 pages and twelve magic carpets.
Filmstrips were an excellent means of supplementing studies. Because they could be produced in small quantities, their subject matter could be more specific. Afton continued to produce them into the 80s. For a long time, our customers’ continual requests for videos went unheeded because the specific market (New Jersey) was just not large enough. We did, however, pick up Leonard Rue Videos in 1993. The Lenape tapes are especially popular and now available on DVD.
In 1986, YOU, NEW JERSEY AND THE WORLD became 256 full-color pages in thirteen Magic Carpets and data-filled appendices. Over 100 photographs, historic paintings, lithographs, a glossary, as well as additional maps, charts, and graphs were added. A spiral-bound teacher edition accompanied it.
After working cooperatively with John T. Cunningham on the 1990 updates, Patricia J. Cunningham took over the editorial and writing responsibilities in 1991 to the present. This included updating all existing materials, producing new ones, and writing and producing the newsletter, The Aftoneer.
One of Ms. Cunningham’s early projects was the addition of review/research sheets to the program. Four teachers from throughout the state contributed their questions. (These have since been revised and updated several times to incorporate the changing Social Studies Standards.)
Some of our materials have been written by teachers. These include
an On the Go-style consumable that teaches map skills through New Jersey places
(Updated several times, it is the basis for a complete map skills program.)
a picture book — A Devil in the Pines
a book of New Jersey trivia questions — New Jersey Do-Nows
a mapping activity — NJ Icon Map Maker
Creating New Jersey Learning Stations
biography cards — New Jerseyans Around the World
a choral reading — Our Town’s History a Gift for All Times
a play — A Magic Carpet Journey
The year 2000 saw a Spanish translation of You, New Jersey and the World. (This now comes with the English translation on CD.)
Each edition of You, New Jersey, And The World reflected new features and improvements — more photographs, graphs, maps, and data-filled appendices. Our current edition is 256 pages in 13 units. It now has open-ended questions for each 2-page subunit, time lines, and end of unit reviews.
In 2005, we finally found a modern means of “translating” our filmstrips. You can now view three favorites, Buzzing A Bill Into Law, Dinosaurs: The Terrible Lizards, and The Jersey Devil on your computer or television as Stories on CD. The also popular Our Immigrant Heritage is now available on DVD.
You, New Jersey and the World, 2004 digital edition was introduced with active links. You, New Jersey and the World, 2008 & 2010 digital editions were introduced with new pictures, graphs, and hyperlinks and video clips were added. The current digital edition is You, New Jersey and the World, 2017
We continue to adapt for your New Jersey Studies needs. We add supplemental and reference materials as we discover them. We satisfy the Standards — and not just Social Studies — Language Arts and even some Science and Math Standards, too. We listen! The changes to our materials are updates that educators have requested.
Afton, today, offers a unique learning opportunity. Our New Jersey materials are written with New Jersey in mind — not a formula designed to accommodate all states. Our program teaches Civics, US History, and Geography through familiar, nearby New Jersey places and events. New Jersey students deserve to learn about their state with a program created especially for it.
If it concerns New Jersey Studies, look to Afton.
•John T. Cunningham, June 26, 1915 – June 7, 2012•