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Considered one of the first picture books, if not the very first, Orbis Sensualis Pictus appears in Latin and German in 1658, and in English the following year.

Air from Orbis sensualis pictus [Public Domain]

Air from Orbis sensualis pictus [Public Domain]

Given the intellectual, political and religious world it appears in, I think it’s rather wonderful and I love the woodcut illustrations and diagrams.

Consider what’s happened over the previous thirty years:

  • Galileo’s theories about the universe are published and banned by the Church (1630s) and Galileo ends up under house arrest after appearing at the Inquisition in Rome.
  • Civil War erupts in the British Isles, Charles I is beheaded and Cromwell settles in as Lord Protector. The Puritans are in charge and fun is cancelled (1640s/1650s)

So it seems quite anachronistic for a Czech bishop to be encouraging practical, lifelong education for all – even women – and publishing educational tracts with illustrations.

Previous to Comenius, children’s books focus firmly on moral education , designed to save the little savages from eternal damnation, but Comenius believed that education was the route to a better society.

According to the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature,

[Comenius] found the pupils so ignorant that he began to devise this picture book , which even the most unlettered child could read and learn from. .. He argued that a pupil must observe a thing with his senses before he can grasp it by means of words.

Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature,  1984, p125

A very simple idea, but a brilliant one.