Item #15: Book of Things

While my “rules” for this list of objects proscribes books, I find I will have to make some exceptions, for this book and a few others, because they align with the spirit of the project: things with no value beyond my attachment, objects that require an explanation as to “why keep this”. So I hereby suspend the “no books or photos or art” rule, or at least modify it to suit myself.

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The book is called First Things: A Picture Book in Natural Color Photographs (Adams, George A.), and was published in 1947. Given its vintage and somewhat tired condition, it likely belonged to my mother as an infant, eventually making its way to me. According to my fleeting research, this book was among the first for children illustrated with colour photographs.

This book as one of my things is a fitting inclusion on my objects list due also to its stated purpose: to introduce children to things. Mundane things, like blocks or a ball, as well as precious things that they were likely not permitted to touch or even see very often, such as scissors or a watch, are presented brightly and colourfully, and realistically. While the items and pictures seem almost primitive now (a rotary telephone, a wind-up pocket watch), I remember the pictures from my own childhood as exactly what the authors intended: recognizing things from my own world, and aligning those things with the large-print words.

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I give credit to this book in particular for my early aptitude for reading, although I’m sure Dr. Suess deserves as much credit if not more for those lovely tongue-twisters in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I have a very specific memory from Grade 1, where the class was given pictures to colour and the lesson was to read the words for the colours and items; the speed with which I could read words like “orange” and “duck” were somewhat exasperating to the teacher. I was sent to the principal. A series of reading and other tests happened, which I recall as being similar to reading first objects – read the word, and then point to the object that corresponds. Within a few days, I skipped up to Grade 2 and a lifetime of being a year younger than most of my classmates, as well as an early lesson in the meaning of “mixed blessing”.

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Some of the images also leant themselves to creative thinking and storytelling. I remember the “flashlight” image in particular, and my early imaginings: was the flashlight dropped by someone in the night? What were they looking for? What happened to them? Also, the “blackboard”: what is that drawn there?

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Hence the item “First Things” has much more meaning than its pages could ever convey. While the objects and pictures seem quaint now, and the book would no longer be a guide for children of today to their own worlds (more like a guide to worlds gone by), as both a childhood memory and an historical reference, this book is a treasured object for me.

Most importantly, a book about things on a list about things seems just the right thing.

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