Tag Archives: school

Vintage Books: The Grade School Textbook as Art

4 Jun

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 cover of Science Stories

The inside cover and first page

The images inside depict children in 1920s era clothing, beautifully rendered in water colours:

An illustration accompanying a story about weather

An illustration depicting a westward wind

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:

From the chapter on “Living Things”

I love the pink sky

“A garden spider eats many kinds of insects.”

There were some nice paintings of landscapes from different climates, and drawings of food and household items:

From the text underneath this illustration: “This picture shows clouds in the sky. But they have not covered the sun. Do you think the ground is warm where the sunshine touches it?”

“There was the ocean at last!”

Electric Helpers “Electricity is one of our best helpers.”

I love the way these scissors are rendered in blues and pinks, this would be awesome as a sticker or t-shirt, or, if you are a hipster, as a tattoo (you guys have seen the scissor tattoos that are cropping up lately, right?

The book also had wonderful illustrations on the chapter title pages, and as part of the section headers:

Chapter title illustration

Section header

The second book is an eighth grade spelling book from 1950.  I love the fountain pen and ink bottle on the black cover:

Cover of The Canadian Speller, Grade 8

Most of the illustrations in this book were small horizontal drawings at the heading of the page, accompanying the chapter title.

“Some of the ———– stamps are very rare.” The instructions ask you to write the word “collector’s” in the blank space. Talk about a pointless exercise!

I love that this textbook has stolen copyrighted Disney characters for this illustration. Perhaps they hoped that Canada is so obscure that it would renderthe discovery of this infringement nearly impossible.

Any good spelling text for children should have a chapter about personal problems. “Some persons, losing their tempers, become very impatient, and allow their actions to be controlled only by their moods. They become nuisances to themselves and to all with whom they have any association.” Under this paragraph about solving personal problems and a vocabulary list of related words is this: “REVIEW– Indians wear moccasins on their feet.”

Here’s an illustration to make you cringe; the accompanying text explains that a Christian missionary is someone who pursues the ideal of self adjustment for others’ comfort while enduring personal hardship to do so! What?! I also enjoy the beehive with chopsticks in it that two of the stereotyped cartoonish African women are wearing.

“Going to a Party!” “The main feature of a party is a group of people having fun together.” Is this really information that people in grade eight are unaware of?

“Your Personality and the School” It’s not clear if the one with the personality disorder here is the conceited girl, the two snickering about her behind her back, or the guy prancing around.

This guy’s personality and the School

“How to Make and Keep Friends” There’s a Harold and Maude joke here, but I’ll let you come up with it. The review at the bottom of this page states “I saw two men quarrelling (sic) on the wharf.” I don’t get what you are supposed to be learning from these reviews!

“Our Cruel Blessing” is, according to this illustration, that we have to give money to people dressed like Abraham Lincoln.

The next book is a grade 7 mathematics book from 1940 that has nice black and white illustrations.  Here’s just a few:

Cover of “Junior Mathematics, Grade 7”

The little girl’s outfit is so sweet!

Wow, the boy in the centre seems rather formally dressed to just find a percent of a number

For grade sixers, as we used to call ’em, I have this textbook, “Living Arithmetic”

The cover of “Living Arithmetic” I love the drawing of the pilot and the children looking at blueprints.

“Everyday Problems” They never end, am I right?

“Problems About Measures” I like that the foreground is drawn in dark black, while the background is grey. It’s an interesting effect.

And finally, if anyone is still reading this long post, there is this grade four text “Arithmetic for Everyday Use”

The cover of “Arithmetic for Everyday Use” published in 1937

Things that cost five cents in 1937

A cozy little drawing at the margin of one of the pages

This was super tiny, like one inch by one inch. I love the giant hair bow and giant neck ruffle

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.

This poor little girl had to go to this maniac’s dead animal store.

This girl’s parents had a less morbid errand for her to run, but still.

This poor little girl had to buy her school supplies alone.  I guess her parents don’t care to take part in the family ritual of “back-to-school” shopping.  God!

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.

Textbooks purchased at Value Village, 1319 Bloor St. W., Toronto

Advertisements

Dear Diary: Episode One

2 Apr

In my rummaging I have managed to acquire two diaries, both written by young women, one in 1969, one in 2002.  The two are quite different in tone and content, but they both offer a tantalizing and voyeuristic peek at the lives of two teen girls.  In this recurring column we will explore their lives, their loves, their triumphs and sorrows.  What nuggets of wisdom will be imparted? Upon reading their inner thoughts will barriers between the sexes, between generations, be broken with the realization that were all not so different?  Let’s find out together dear reader, as we take a look at what lurks inside…the diary of a teen girl!  PS.  These entries are 100 percent real, I could not make this stuff up.

Here is the cover of the first diary, a five year Diary which was started in 1969:

Lets read an entry, shall we?

“April 23, 1969.  Went to school, made Hawaiian wieners, did homework, watched TV, went to store, read.”

Okay, so perhaps the writer of this diary wasn’t feeling all touchy-feely and emotional that day.  But we’ll check back for more edge of your seat entries soon.

The second diary a lavender number, looks like this:

A sample entry:

“May 30, 2002.   I was at Devin’s house (lady heart- evidently this girl’s boyfriend) and he was so funny.  Like I was feeling sick and he doesn’t have a bathtub and he was like ‘oh I wish I had a bath so you could have one.  I guess the best I could offer you is you could curl up on my bathroom floor while I run the water on you, a good three inches might collect.’  We stayed up really late and he had to get up early the next day, and he was like ‘you know what I’m going to be like tomorrow?  You know when you burn breakfast and then throw it out?  That’s going to be me.’   The next day at school  I was talking to my friend Lex in class.  She is so cool.  She was telling me about the time these guys in a car called her a ‘trash bag’, and she spat on them and they beat her up, but she said it was worth it because no body calls her a ‘trash bag’.”

Fascinating,  no?

What adventures will these two girls have next?  Stay tuned to find out!