A Blank Slate: The Rational Child
Enlightenment philosopher John Locke pictured a newborn's mind as a tabula rasa, or blank slate primed for learning, and believed that a child's capacity for reason increased naturally over time. Locke argued that earnest Puritans who exhorted their four-year-olds to read the Bible failed to realize that children so young might simply not be up to the task.
What books were suitable? In Orbis Sensualium Pictus (The Pictured World), educator Johann Amos Comenius was among the first to show that illustration worked wonders to concentrate a young reader's attention.
Endorsing this view, Locke, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education, added humor, brevity, and a reasoned appeal for good behavior to his trail-blazing checklist of children's literature dos and don'ts.
Let the young relish—and reflect on—Aesop's fables, Locke declared; let "Learning be made...Play and Recreation." Locke's recommendations helped spawn an unprecedented demand for children's books and educational games, an opportunity that publisher-booksellers from London to New England enthusiastically seized.
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(The Pictured World)
Written by Johann Amos Comenius
Written by John Locke
Written by Isaiah Thomas
Illustrated by John Harris
Written by Aesop
Illustrated by Ernest Griset
Written and Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Written and Illustrated by William Blake
Originally Published 1896
Written and Illustrated by Antonio Frasconi