01- The beginnings of children and young adult publications are tied to didacticism and the transmission of morals. The recreational and fantasy ingredient takes a secondary, if not non-existent place. This civilizing treatment of young people begins in the early 20th century under the control of educators and religious institutions which, generally, regard children as an empty receptacle to be filled, cleansing them from the impurities of their wild instinct typical of their evil nature. Their aim is to transform the child from chaotic to orderly, from a beast to a citizen.

The publication of books and magazines for children has generated a kind of subsidiary product and appendix to the textbook. Only in the second half of the 20th century did it begin to gradually shed its exemplarity and head towards an apparently more aseptic didacticism, since the enthronement of science as ethics became generalised. However, this apparent objectivity is nothing more than another focus of moral identity where, interestingly enough, fantasy is more marginalised than in formative stories where, at least, it was introduced as a metaphor.

It is only now that the focus has shifted to the appearance of a fake everyday-life tale influenced by the sociological and its cult to an apparent reality. Therefore, a civil view in contrast to the religious or metaphysic one, which more abstractly allowed the fantastical and terrifying outbursts that emerged from collective fears. This current cult of reality is nothing more than another form of formative didacticism designed to shape good citizens. The priest is replaced by the psychologist, both castrating beings with an identical faith in wanting to explain an orderly world to themselves.

These varying views in publications for children, the different products over recent times, are based on the same unshakeable basis: the false belief that the world is orderly and evolving towards the sublime; and the gradual indoctrination so that the reader also believes it. Under this aspect, the children’s story has only changed in form, a peculiar way to change. What is chaotic, what cannot be arranged in practical containers has never been to the liking of religious institutions, nor of the well-intentioned bourgeoise who succeeded them.

02- ‘Lessons on Things’ is a typical product of this civil disruption. The purpose is to promote science and knowledge by giving them a permanent and eternal character. An explanation of the world under the indisputable view of science that affirms. Utility as the supreme good. Things, now, are not in themselves, but in how useful they can be. What is useless, wild, formless, is ignored. Mechanism, then, is supreme explanation. Things are utensils susceptible of use; they become goods. It is the world of settled mediocrity.

We undertake some ‘Lessons on Things’, digging into the absurd and the useless. For us, a thing is more of a thing when it is useless. Scientific claims are as superfluous as fashions. What is said about any matter today is as true as what was said about it a century ago, which, in many cases, was the exact opposite. Tomatoes were poison, when today they are healthy, and tomorrow they will be harmless. Claims pass, and so do things.

03- Aesthetic antecedents. Three are our main sources and foundations: the didactic informative book, the anecdotal and miscellaneous page in magazines and comic books, and the illustrated dictionary. Three popular antecedents that approach the explanation of things from different formal perspectives. The didactic school book offers its general bases, its position in contrast to the rest of things with a compilation and taxonomy aim under a an eminently practical and scientifically informative aspect. The anecdotal page, often ironic, so trendy in magazines and comic books until the early sixties; a section inherited from the first children’s educational magazines from the beginning of the 20th century, are miscellaneous publications that, graphically, were a refuge for illustrators in the old nineteenth-century style that went out of fashion, supplied with a graphic wisdom that is unnoticed today. And, lastly, illustrated dictionaries and encyclopedias, where, like in a museum or a zoo, the dissection of things is attempted, their fixation as a thing, their I.D. card that makes them a thing as opposed to another, their definition.

Image: covers of Tesoro de conocimientos útiles (Treasury of useful knowledge; 1928), by G. M. Bruño; Lecciones de cosas (Lessons on Things, 1934), by José Dalmau Carles; and Lecciones de cosas (1958), by Juan Martín Romero.