Vintage children’s textbooks are a wonderful source for illustrations. I am inspired by the work of Henry Darger, an outsider artist who collected pictures and drawings of children to use as reference in his beautiful paintings, which he created to accompany an epic book he was writing. These old books contain exactly the type of sweet drawings of children in old fashioned clothes that Darger used. They also feature great typography typical of the times, typography that you don’t really see anymore. The books tend to be small, most being no more than 7″ X 5″, and when I hold them, as with many old objects, they seem to have this energy about them that makes one wonder about its life before it came into one’s possession. Also, when you look at them it makes you realize that you can’t remember how to do long division anymore. I have quite a number of these textbooks, some dating back to the 1920s, but here are a few of my favorites.
The first is a science textbook called “Science Stories: Book Two” It is missing the page that indicates the publisher, edition and release date, but it is probably from the 1950s. Concepts such as weather, electricity and living things are explained with small stories that are punctuated with illustrations.
The images inside depict children in 1920s era clothing, beautifully rendered in water colours:
The illustrations of children are too numerous to show them all. There were also lovely illustrations of animals. Here are the ones of the “hipster” animals, the deer, and the wolf:
There were some nice paintings of landscapes from different climates, and drawings of food and household items:
The book also had wonderful illustrations on the chapter title pages, and as part of the section headers:
The second book is an eighth grade spelling book from 1950. I love the fountain pen and ink bottle on the black cover:
Most of the illustrations in this book were small horizontal drawings at the heading of the page, accompanying the chapter title.
The next book is a grade 7 mathematics book from 1940 that has nice black and white illustrations. Here’s just a few:
And finally, if anyone is still reading this long post, there is this grade four text “Arithmetic for Everyday Use”
In contrast to the above girl’s leisure, a few of the illustrations depicted little girls sent off to do errands that they look too young to do by themselves.
Well, anyways I hope you have enjoyed this look at some of my vintage children’s textbooks. They are really very sweet in their content. At times though with some of these books there will be a little story about, you know, “see Jane run, run run, run, Dick wants to run too, Dick and Jane run,” but when you flip to the back of the book where there is teaching material for the instructor you see that that little asinine three lines was supposed to teach you a whole page of stuff, like about how physical activity is important to grow up well adjusted, how it’s important to wear weather appropriate clothes, different emotions manifest themselves in a variety of physical ways and on and on, on topics that did not come to mind while reading the thing! It’s amazing the way books for children of these grades really shape one’s perception of the world in ways you don’t even realize at the time.
I liked their small size too, like I said they were all only about 5 by 7 inches. They are much better than those hulking 10″ X 12″ hard cover monstrosities they make you carry now. And most of the text book now just have boring stock photography or crappy modern cartoon-like line drawings that have no artistic value. No wonder I forgot how to do basic math, I just wasn’t visually inspired the way I could, nay, should, have been!
I purchased all of my vintage children’s textbook (I’ve only shown a few here) at Value Village thrift store, which have them some times in their vintage book section.