I am a huge fan of Ladybird Books, and I also love a good joke. The four review copies provided by LadybirdHQ were a great opportunity for me to enjoy the books. Thank you, I’m really grateful. But I can’t get myself to like them.

Ladybird Books was originally conceived by a Loughborough-based company named Wills & Hepworth in 1915. Over the years, their ownership has changed, first moving to Pearson in 1972 and then being absorbed into the publishing giant, Penguin, in 1999.

Penguin is releasing new limited editions of Ladybird’s “Well-Loved Tales,” classic fairy tales written by Vera Southgate to celebrate Ladybird’s 100th anniversary. Adults can now join in on the fun with this new collection of adult spoofs. Ladybird illustrates the books, but Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley wrote the text. They worked together in the comedy show that Mitchell and Webb looked at.

Over the years, Ladybird has produced 63 series, including Learning with Mother and Read it Yourself, as well as the Key Words Reading Scheme. The “Well-Loved Tales,” while simple, are not patronizing. They also have just enough peril in them to make for compelling stories. The Key Words Scheme, featuring Peter and Jane, was introduced in 1965 and is still used as a reading primer in many countries. The Key Words scheme is notable for its careful repetition of a small number of key terms that underpin everyday language. New words are flagged on each page.

Not the first

Ladybird’s self-satire wasn’t the first. London artist Miriam Elia made fun of the Peter and Jane series in 2014. In “We Go to the Galerie,” Mummy takes the children to a contemporary art space. Highlights include:

Jane asks, “Why is there a genital on the picture?” Mummy says, ‘Because God has died, and everything is sexual.’

As always, new keywords will be flagged at the bottom of every page: Painting, Pretty, and Penis.

The Ladybird format is used to critique and respond to Elia’s experience with the “art-school system,” where art, according to Elia, “is all about salesmanship.”

God is dead, and everything is sex.

She’s absolutely right. Her satire, a mixture of original painting with mixed media, perfectly captures the conceptual void that, unfortunately, is at the core of many of our art institutions. She explains.

My brother once told me that good satire can mock anything and everything. Many people ask me if I’m mocking Ladybird Books, the cynicism in contemporary art, or the politics that underpin the work. I laugh at everything.

Not everyone, however, was happy with Elia’s work. Penguin sued her and demanded she destroy all of her books. Penguin’s attempts to sue Elia failed after she made changes (such as replacing Peter and Jane with Susan and John and changing the Ladybird to a dung-beetle) so that her works could not be accused of copyright infringement.

Hazeley & Morris were not to be outdone. They created a series of Ladybird Books just for Penguin.

Depressing comedy

I may be the only one who finds them amusing. According to an Amazon review, they have found a niche. They don’t really have much to say. The humor is based on stereotypes and cheap shots, like: “Wives love to be right.” The other reads, “Emma likes to eat salad because it’s not fattening.” In The Husband, we see cars with the words:

It’s the inside of Tim’s head. The book also includes pictures of women before they put on their clothes.

The book begins with a thank you note to “Sir Penious, Executive Secretary of the British Society of Husbands.”

Remember that Penguin has previously stated that they are against anything that is rude or contains the word “fuck” or “feminist.”

Our copyrights and trademarks are taken very seriously, not least in the case of our Ladybird brand, which has been developed for many years with the goal of helping very young children learn to read.

(c) Miriam Elia

Hazeley & Morris didn’t seem to know this. It’s a puerile, depressing comedy that thinks it is funny but isn’t. In a world of cliches, women are demanding, and men are henpecked, while hipsters make for an easy but unrewarding victim.

Penguin’s better response would have been to commission Elia for the series. It didn’t. The authors acknowledge the Ladybird illustrators as the source of inspiration, but they don’t mention Elia. The penguin probably wouldn’t have allowed it. Perhaps they didn’t even think about it.