Monday, 29 June 2009

Peter, Pat, a life-jacket and the Beeb

The BBC are making a series of 4 programmes, hosted by Kirsty Young I think, exploring aspects of social change through children's books - or something like that.

Anyway, I was contacted by one of the programme team who had come across my website and had noted my article on the changes of family roles depicted in the original and revised versions of Peter and Jane.

After asking for my thoughts on father figures in Ladybird Books, I was asked if the BBC could borrow some of the books that show pictures like those in the article. So they sent up a very pleasant young lady to my house - who left with a box of books. There was no clear idea of how the books are going to find their way back home when filming is over, but this is the Beeb, so mine is not to reason why.

When I was thinking about which LB books would best depict ideas of fatherhood, it occurred to me that actually the Peter and Jane books are almost the last time that Ladybird dealt with the cosy nucleur family. From the late 60s on the new books that were published no longer focus on family life. Either non-fiction or fairy-tales or tales of animals (Hannibal the Hamster) or fruit and veg! (The Garden Gang) or science fiction. Even the next reading schemes avoid looking too closely at the family - Puddle Lane is vaguly set in fantasy distant past, late-Victorian England with Gruffles and Griffles. The children involved are always playing out on the street. The adults are neighbours or The Magician. The cats - Tim and Tessa - seem to be raised by a single-mother and even the parents of the mice are absent for most of the series. The Sandlewood Girl and Iron Boy are parentless and are sort-of adopted at the end.

It's as if, from the 1970s the cosy Peter and Jane family was no longer felt to be relevant, comfortable territory. But this was Ladybird - safe, national treasure - who could hardly bring out their own Ladybird version of "Jenny lives with Eric and Martin". So instead they averted their Ladybird eyes and focused elsewhere and anywhere else.

Oh, and the picture of Peter in a life-jacket is because the programme makers were also interested in depictions of how children's freedom becomes restricted. The picture of Peter paddling on the river was revised in the early 70s; the artist, Martin Aitchison, was asked to paint a life-jacket over the original picture (shown above).

I think the programmes are coming out some time in August - BBC2.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

More on Peter and Jane

If the slideshow below isn't quite enough for you, you'll be relieved to here that I have just about completed the Gallery pages for the original Key Word Readers Books.

You'll find it here

I've also finished the Gallery pages for the 11 books in the Key Word series which I call the '1st Revision'.

You'll find them here.

Now, which series next? It would be logical to finish off the Key Word Readers - with the mid 70s editions. But I fancy a change ... Perhaps that wonderful nostalgia-fest which is series 563 ... or the History series ... or 'The Story of ...' series. So little time, so many Ladybird Books.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Something soothing (or terrifying?)

Do the words 'Peter and Jane' take you back to a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic place in your memories? The rosy-tinted hues of distant childhood? Or do they remind you of the horrors of primary school, of being tortured into reading by the terrible two (and Pat the dog).

If the former, indulge in a wee nostalgia-fest.

If the latter, perhaps this will help you probe your fears and gain relief.

Ok ok, so the following is a bi-product of playing with slideshow tools for work. But still.

Monday, 15 June 2009

From Writer to Artist

A few weeks ago I delighted to be given a couple of letters which were written by L du Garde Peach to John Kenny. Now if you love the History series of Ladybird Books, (Series 561) those names will be familiar to to you. L du Garde Peach wrote every one of the History books from the first, 'King Arthur the Great' in 1956, to 'Elizabeth Fry' in 1973. Almost all of these were illustrated by Kenney.

These letters, written when du Garde Peach was in his early eighties, are a wonderful insight into the powerful personality of L du G (as he signed himself), his attitude to his work, the cordiality of relations with his long-time colleague Kenney and a caustic bewilderment at the world he was now living in. They are also particularly poignant as they were written only two years before his death in 1974 and in them discusses the books 'Elizabeth Fry' and 'The Pilgrim Fathers', which were to be among the last two books he was ever to write for Ladybird. At one point he mentions having just finished 'Henry II and Thomas Becket' but perhaps ill-health meant that his writing was not up to the usual standard - the 1st edition copy of the book on my shelves says it was written by John Roberts and illustrated by Roger Hall.

At the time of these letters - although neither of them can have known it - The Kenney/du Garde Peach collaboration had come to an end after 17 years and 27 books.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Home visits

Not everyone likes the internet. There's something about actually browsing through books, especially old ones, which can't be reproduced online.

I vividly remember a trip to a little bookshop called 'Peakirk Books' shortly after I started collecting Ladybird Books. I had noticed from listings on the internet that this shop seemed to specialise in Ladybird Books so did some research and discovered that it was less than two hours away. So husband and young son kindly agreed to accompany me to the tiny village of Peakirk, near Peterborough.

The shop was small but the tiny attic-like upstairs was dedicated to children's books and, at the time, contained more old Ladybird Books than I had then ever seen in one place. The owner, who I recall was called Heather, made us a cup of tea as we browsed. It was heaven. Although the books weren't cheap (this was before Amazon and eBay increased availability and bought down the cost of common titles)there were lots of them and the browsing and sellecting was delicious. Finally I made my choice of books on my 'wants' list, paid the bill and came home - aware of having been extravagant, but having passed a great day (ok, there was also a trip to a local wild-fowl park, just to show husband and son a good time too. We collectors, selfish? Never!)

Well I remembered all of this this week because on Monday evening a man, a Ladybird Book collector, rang me, asking me if I only sold books online or if he could come around to browse through my vast hoard of swaps. And so the next day he did just that, embarking on a journey of about 2 hours, bringing his 'wants' list and tiny daughter with him. I made him a cup of tea, he sorted through the books in the attic, and went away happily with a box full of books.

Who knows if one day,he too will have an attic groaning under the weight of Ladybird swaps and the cycle of ladybird collecting will go on?