Friday, September 29, 2006

Peter and Jane again

Last year I mentioned the Ladybird Keywords reading scheme in a couple of postings (here and here, to be exact - I think it must have been an example of this blog's eclecticism.) As Statcounter tells me those postings are still read, I thought I would mention it again.

There is an article on a Ladybird collectors' site about the illustrations in the Peter and Jane books. As it points out, the books came out in 1964 and only six years later the publishers decided that the illustrations needed to be updated.

The writer asks:
I wonder if the original target audience were aware of the nostalgic, retrospective feel to them when they first came out? Perhaps there was an awareness even then that these idyllic domestic tableaux were unreal and presented a world that had never existed. (Yes, I was part of that early audience, but at the age of 5, I don't think my powers of analysis were up to the job). Or is it that those years, between the mid-sixties and early seventies saw exceptionally dramatic social change for families. Is this dramatic period of change encapsulated by the 2 versions of the books?

Because if you flip through the pages of a 1970s revised edition, it will still feel pretty modern today - which the first version absolutely does not - although produced nearly 35 years ago. No mobile phones, designer trainers or computer games - but the children have scruffy hair, wear jeans and T-shirt and don't tidy up after themselves.
I think there were huge social changes round about the mid-sixties and that the two versions of these books appeared either side of that watershed. Certainly, if you see photographs of university sports teams or railway excursions from the early sixties then everyone is dressed like the young Ming Campbell in sports jacket and tie. A few years later they all have anoraks, T-shirts and jeans.

It would be easy to paint this move from the early 1960s to the early 1970s as a straightforward liberation for children, but things were more complicated than that:

The first thing you notice is that Jane gets to wear jeans and is seen playing with roller-skates where once she played with dolls. The scenes portrayed look less ordered and serene. Play time is messier and the children appear to bicker more.

However, if, like me, you are happy to spend a few evenings browsing through the two different versions, you'll find that the biggest changes in the first few books are all to do with sweet consumption. Whereas the Peter and Jane of the 1960s would visit the sweet shop, the 1970s Peter and Jane go to buy apples instead.

This change was considered so important that even Murray's text (so carefully worded and so rarely tampered with) was adapted in the revised books. adapted to reflect the apple over the jelly-baby.

If I recall my own childhood correctly, this disapproval of sweets had nothing to do with obesity but arose from the high rate of tooth decay. Whatever the era, there is always something for parents to worry about.


Anonymous said...

Brings back memories. For my grandson's birthday yesterday collected a whole pile of books. He's only 2 but he loves books or 'stories' as he calls them -Carries them everywhere with his blanket

Asked my son Marcus if he remembered the books I bought for him and his brother Sule. He remarked the only books he remembered was the constant pile of Ladybird books.

Jonathan Calder said...

Hello Jane

Thanks - I have never hod priblems witth reeding an writig