Vintage Ladybirds

November 15, 2009 at 9:58 pm | Posted in Anne, Dick, George, Julian, Learning Stuff | 1 Comment
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Vintage Ladybirds are everywhere nowadays. As well as being easily available via the internet, my local market is just one of the many places in London where you can pick up these children’s classics from the 1960s, 70s and 80s for a few pounds each. When the excellent Magdalen Street branch of Oxfam in my home town of Norwich received a massive donation of Ladybirds and put them in the window they were all snapped up within two days (or so my mum tells me).

Ladybirds would be just the type of the books the Five (well, Four – Timmy probably not being a great reader despite his many other talents) would enjoy reading. Fairytales and Learn About Sewing for Anne, Learn About Tricks and Magic for Dick (who were are told is an aspiring magician), Tricks (1969)The Ladybird Book of Sailing and Boating and Man on the Sea for George, and The Ladybird Book of the Night Sky and history books such as The Romans in Britain for Julian (these would aid him in his attempts to show off his superior knowledge to the girls).

Books about camping and map reading would have come in handy all round, and if only the Five had had Butterflies and Moths Ladybirdwhen they went to Billycock Hill,they might have more successfully won over those ‘queer’ butterfly men.

The first Ladybird story books came out during the First World War but it was not until the Second World War that the familiar pocket sized Ladybirds appeared. The idea for the first factual book came about in 1948. The man responsible for this, Douglas Keen (1913-2008), would become the editorial director of Ladybird and go on to shape the education and reading habits of generations of children. Keen had a wide-ranging set of interests, from the natural world to religion and history. He commissioned experts to write the books, and a top group of artists to illustrate them.

Like Penguin books from the 30s onwards, value for money was key in persuading readers (children in this case) to buy rather than borrow Ladybirds and the books remained at 2/6d (two shillings and six pence) for thirty years.

Nuclear Ladybird (1972)Many of the families depicted in the books were typical middle class nuclear families, a fact which Cressida Connelly, author of Keen’s obituary, suggests may represent a measure of wish-fulfillment as Keen himself came from a broken working class family. MagnetsTo a certain extent, the same could be said of the Five and Enid Blyton. Blyton’s father also left the family when she was at an impressionable age, and she cut herself off from the rest of her family when she left home to train as a teacher. Although George’s home life is far from perfect, especially as presented in the first adventure, Five on a Treasure Island, Fanny is a caring mother and Quentin’s heart is in the right place, however well he hides it. Perhaps he was so grumpy because he didn’t want to be disturbed when busy penning one of the Ladybird science books?


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  1. Great feature. I remember most of these very well.

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