Well known for its collection of children’s books, the Cooper Hewitt Library holds a rare 19th Century illustrated German nursery rhyme children’s book titled Paradiesfibel, written and illustrated to teach sign language.

Cover of children’s book Paradiesfibel by Joseph and Maria Koch (1900-70)

It features colored illustrations by Richard Seewald (1889-1976) a German visual artist. With highly stylized animals, this fairy tale includes humorous animals in human situations, such as singing frogs and playing monkeys.
Singing frogs from Paradiesfibel.

Singing frogs from Paradiesfibel.


Written by husband and wife Joseph and Maria Koch, the rhythmic flow of the text works in conjunction with Koch’s development of the “finger-reading” method of sign language, where each letter corresponds to a specific gesture. An early form of sign language, their groundwork formed the basis of several versions of fully developed and recognized styles of communication for the deaf today. This text was used to teach children sign language and stands as a treasure for children’s book enthusiasts and educators alike.
This book is part of the Smithsonian Libraries’ Adopt-a-Book Program, which provides essential funding to support the conservation, acquisition, and digitization of books and manuscripts and can be adopted online. Paradiesfibel is one of the books available for adoption that needs support for preservation treatment, ensuring access to this book and other rare and fragile books for the future. This book has an early 20th century German staple binding where the spine is missing and the staples have oxidized. Conservators will remove the staples and guard the single sheets of textblock to make sections, which will be re-sewn through the fold. It will be re-cased in the repaired original binding with a customized enclosure. Nilda Lopez, Cooper Hewitt Library

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