Mabel O'Donnell Elementary School opened in 1965 along with its sister school, Rose E. Krug. Both schools feature a unique circular architecture, with curved hallways. When they were constructed, the buildings were considered “the schools of tomorrow”, with a design that would allow adaptability as teaching and instruction changed. The intention of the circular design was to allow for better sightlines and flexible student grouping. The total construction cost for both buildings was $898,722.38.
O'Donnell Elementary school has had two additions constructed to expand student capacity. The first was a round design that added 6 classrooms. It has been remodeled to hold four early learning classrooms. The second addition on the building's north side added eight classrooms, five offices, and a media center.
About Mabel O'Donnell The stories of Mabel O’Donnell found a permanent home in the imagination on millions of young readers. Through her books, children traveled the world with the Alice and Jerry, the main characters in her first series. O’Donnell became one of the best-selling writers of all time because she created sophisticated stories shared through accessible language.
“Dick and Jane may have taught a generation to read but Alice and Jerry taught us to dream,” wrote one newspaper columnist.
The stories O’Donnell would write were grounded in her early life in Aurora. O’Donnell graduated from East Aurora High School in 1909, then went to DeKalb Normal School (later known as Northern Illinois University) intent on becoming a writer. In 1908, she began teaching at Brady Elementary School. She later did graduate work at Columbia University and earned a Doctorate from the University of Chicago.
While working as director of elementary schools, O’Donnell was praised for helping developing teachers become master educators. It was during this time that she came in contact with a book publisher who was looking for a teacher to edit a new book. O’Donnell wrote to say she didn’t like the book and could write a better one herself. They took her up on the offer.
In 1936, while O’Donnell was principal at Young School, Row, Peterson and Co., published her first books: a series of reading instruction books featuring a brother and sister named Alice and Jerry. The series was revolutionary in reading instruction: it included a teaching guide and separate reading plans for superior, average and immature readers.
The books were full of adventure; O’Donnell wanted the stories to be more than vocabulary lessons. She worked hard at writing for children. She considered young people to be the toughest critics, a group that would not tolerate sentimental drivel or adult moralizing.
O’Donnell wrote three-dimensional characters involved in detailed stories would teach as they entertained. Alice and Jerry would ride a train around the world, or explore their fictional hometown, which shared a parallel history to Aurora. O’Donnell later added a second series, the Janet and John books, which continued to be republished for four decades.
Her books became children’s classics, adored by readers and teachers. Altogether, O’Donnell wrote 47 titles and collaborated on 53 more. Between the two sets, O’Donnell sold more than 100 millions books around the world.
In 1946, she left the school district to become head of the Reading Department for Row, Peterson and Co., in Evanston (now known as Harper Collins). In 1965, an East Aurora elementary school was named in her honor. Miss O’Donnell lived in Aurora her entire life. She died in 1985 at 95 years old.
“The world is still a wonderful place,” she told the East Aurora High School students when receiving her alumni honor. “A place for laughter and gayety and joy, for sadness, yes, but also for beauty and goodness and hope and exciting aspirations.”