Cinq fois six valent trente! Or how to learn multiplication in the French way

Front cover of Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862
Front cover of Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862

Who said that mathematics isn't fun? Here is an example of how French kids could memorize the multiplication tables by reading, or listening to,  this book containing hand-colored illustrations and rhymes like this one:

L'autre prit une entorse.
Deux fois sept font quatorze.

Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862
Illustration from Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862

First published around 1862, Le calcul amusant (Fun Calculation) is just one among many titles that met an increasing demand for books designed exclusively for children. Was the concept of modern childhood created in the nineteenth century? While in the past "children literature" mostly consisted of recycled works such as Aesop's Fables, or of religious primers that threatened misbehaved kids with the flames of hell,  the tradition of children's books as we understand it today was firmly established by the second half of the nineteenth century.

Behind the pseudonym "Trim",  as displayed in the title page, is the real author, Louis Gustave Fortuné Ratisbone (1827-1900). In his prolific literary career, Ratisbone's most important work was a translation of Dante's Divine Comedy in rhymed tercets: Inferno (1852); Purgatorio (1857); and Paradiso (1859). But today he is best remembered by his fables and verses for children, including our Le calcul amusant.

Illutration from Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862
Illustration from Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862

Admittedly, this book displays some "pedagogical" practices that have been dismissed long time ago. I hope we don't inadvertently frighten our kids with guillotine-like classrooms or ass's ears.

Illutration from Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862
Illustration from Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862
Illutration from Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862
Illustration from Le Calcul Amusant. La table de Pythagore servie aux petits enfants. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie. Boulevard Saint-Germain, 79, ca. 1862

For more information about our Children's Literature Collection, please visit the following link.