The Reading gallery has scores of titles shelved chronologically from 1961’s Learning to Read Numbers, to current titles such as Climate Change by HRH The Prince of Wales, whose 50 pages are credited with two more co-authors and eight peer reviewers.
Prince Charles’s book is one of three new “expert” titles, for which the first new artwork in 40 years was commissioned. Before that illustrations were endlessly recycled and updated where necessary: an early space exploration image was overpainted to show that the Eagle had landed in 1969, and the curators found a new head had been glued on top of one image of Jane.
Baxter wonders if modern viewers will be charmed or chagrined by the Ladybird worldview. “Will they just feel nostalgia,” he said, “or perhaps worry about this very simplistic, sanitised view of the world we were presented with, and passed on to our own children?”Both Guy Baxter, the archivist at Reading, and Kennedy seems occupied by the idea that the Ladybird books were a little twee.
Call Malcolm Clark from the New Statesman:
Those wide expanses of seashore and countryside on Planet Ladybird are seen as totally safe. There are no overprotective parents, no teachers dreading accidents or subsequent inquests, no lawyers waiting to sue when Peter stumbles during a jump over a stile. Nor are there any dirty white vans prowling along B-roads on the off chance.
Public space was not thought to be dangerous then, and this is not just nostalgic idealisation. I grew up in a small town in the early 1970s. The vast public park really did have attendants. It also happened to have well-tended flowerbeds and a boating pond. These days, you have to train your dog to tiptoe over the syringes. The war memorial is covered in graffiti and there isn't a police station for ten miles. If you sent Peter and Jane there to fly a kite, you'd kit them out in bulletproof vests first.
In fact, the entire old Ladybird project had an indefinable public-spiritedness about it. This partly reflected a strain in British culture that went all the way back to Samuel Smiles's Self-Help and the Victorian reference libraries. The quest for knowledge was seen as an uncomplicated and enjoyable pursuit, one in which young citizens should be encouraged to share.
So once you had learnt to read, you could move on to a panoply of different subjects, each featured in its own dedicated little tome, from the lives of biographical figures, such as Captain Scott or Robert the Bruce, to significant moments in history, such as the civil war. You could learn about "wind and flight", or even Australasian mammals.Ladybird would even teach you to read. The illustration above comes from Our Friends, books 6A in the imprint's Key Words Reading Scheme.
That was the series of book I learnt to read with before I went to school. And it was strictly look and say - none of your synthetic phonics nonsense.