Think back to childhood. What comes to mind? Many of the memories are likely of “firsts”: your first snowfall, your first ballgame . . . even your first bubble. It was something special, wasn’t it? Something you created, with the wave of a wand or a simple exhalation of breath—something that shimmered with color and somehow, incredibly, floated right before your eyes? The photographs here, made by LIFE’s Gjon Mili, distill so many aspects of childhood: the wonder, the innocence, the simplicity.
When LIFE shared these photographs with its readers in 1941, the magazine wrote:
Far from merely evoking nostalgia for childhood, Mili’s pictures evoke an earlier time, before the Digital Age, when most children played with the most rudimentary of toys, or fashioned playthings from household objects and their imaginations. Today, when toddlers can manipulate smart phones and tablets before they’re able to utter coherent sentences—a reality that, we admit, says an awful lot about the powerfully intuitive design of some digital devices—Celestine’s unfeigned delight is a reminder that, sometimes, the simplest joys are the most profound, and enduring.
Katie Yee is a native New Yorker, an undergraduate studying Literature and Psychology at Bennington College, and an editorial assistant at Tweed’s Magazine of Literature & Art.