“What a confusing world it can seem … Sit as still as you can. Do not attempt to make any decisions,” advises The Ladybird Book of the Hangover, while The Ladybird Book of the Hipster introduces us at one point to Jinja who each Friday “…DJs in a club where all the furniture has been burned deliberately.”
More than 100 years have passed since the August of 1914 when Henry Wills and William Hepworth first published children’s books under the Ladybird franchise, and to mark their centenary, Penguin, the publishers behind the brand, have joined forces with Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris (the writers of the much-loved BBC comedy Miranda) to release a series for adults that parodies the originals of yesteryear.
Rising to popularity in the 1960s, Ladybird has presented a realm of English pleasantry: Wholesome nuclear families, safe suburban neighborhoods and innocent children named Peter and Jane would span 56 pages of simple yet informative non-fiction, covering myriad topics from policemen to locomotives. As a child, I remember being particularly engrossed in the How It Works collection, where The Computer (published in 1978) presented the PC in its most antiquated form, and the People at Work series too, which was packed full of jolly postmen and charismatic farmers, all who loved and cherished their jobs.
With their bright illustrations, clear, friendly typeface and optimistic accounts, these books became the staple of a child’s shelf, and to this day you’ll be hard pressed to find a Brit who doesn’t smile longingly at the sight or touch of the multi-colored hardbacks, sized to a twee 4.5 by 7 inches with a key black and red motif etched on the corner.
Now, eight recently released books, including How it Works: The Husband and The Ladybird Book of Dating, playfully satirize the behavior of today’s “grown-ups,” a generation of readers who, once curious about firemen and Vikings, are still trying to make sense of it all: from the dreaded pitfalls of a midlife crisis to maintaining a life full of mindfulness.
It’s hard to not crack a smile at such good-humored pastiche, especially when it comes to housewife Sara who, in How it Works: The Wife, is “…waiting for her husband, Tom, to arrive. He is half an hour late. Sara is delighted. She knew this would happen.” Or Cyril who “…has a shed on his allotment, nine miles from his home,” as well as “…an emergency shed in Italy, for when his wife finds this shed.”
Such spirited mockery has scored Ladybird triumph, capturing the imagination of the nation once more. With 600,000 copies sold in less than two months of their release and over a million more put into print, it’s clear that these books remain firmly in the hearts of the British population, and begs the question: Do we really ever grow up?Read More