Originally conceived in 1915, Ladybird Education books were wholesome publications that introduced generations of children to everything from fairy tales to The Gunpowder Plot to oil and nuclear power.
Fast-forward 100 years, and adults who were given the originals as a way of teaching them to read will be pleased to know that Peter and Jane are back. This time however, they’ve got a drinking problem. Not to mention a wry and weary view of the world around them.
In October this year, to celebrate the Ladybird centenary, Penguin launched a new series of self-satirical Ladybird books for grown-ups, giving the original copies an adult makeover. Written by comedy duo Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, whose credits include writing for Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe, 8 new titles have been published as guides to help grown-ups make sense of modern life. Their topics include dating, hangovers, mid-life crisis’ and hipster culture- all stocked here at Utility.
The books offer a dry (and often laugh-out-loud) critique on modern trends. The Book Of The Hipster pokes fun at those people with a purposeless obsession with obscure music, artisanal food and vintage objects, whilst The Book of Mindfulness satirises a modern-obsession with finding fulfilment and ‘self-realisation’.
The books also draw on the fears we experience as adults: The fear of getting old, of not fulfilling our ambitions, and of being alone. The Book of the Midlife Crisis opens with the bleak beginning: “When we’re young we wonder if we’ll be a surgeon or an astronaut. We can be anything we wan’t to be. Then one day we can’t”.
It's an opening line that even makes co-author Morris cry for being "too close to the bone”. Yet it's the darkly funny use of weary tongue-in-cheek text and relatable scenarios, alongside original Ladybird artwork, that has allowed the books to fly to the top of the charts whilst convincing cynical adults they’ve learnt to cope with their modern problems.
Ladybird spoof books aren’t a new idea- the juxtaposition of genteel imagery with comical captions has long gathered trend on the Internet, with unofficial titles including "The Book of Hot Dads". Last year comedian and writer Miriam Elia was threatened with legal action over her brilliantly funny book We Go To The Gallery- in which Peter and Jane (renamed John and Susan) discover that real meaning does not exist and that death is final as they try to make sense of modern art.
However, Morris and Hazeley's series is the first to be authorised by Penguin, and truly gets deadpan, witty pastiche spot on. 100,000 copies have been sold already, and one million more are being printed for Christmas to meet an overwhelming demand.
A spokesperson for Penguin said “Jason and Joel proposed a series of new books using the original Ladybird artwork and brand new text and we thought it was brilliant idea – partly because the sample pages they produced for The Ladybird Book of the Hipster had us crying with laughter, but also because in Ladybird’s hundredth year, it presented a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the beautiful original Ladybird artwork and bring it to the attention of and appreciation of a whole new readership.”
Mr Morris acknowledges that he and he co-author have been given a unique opportunity. “It’s like being allowed to mess about with a national treasure" he said. “It’s like repainting St Paul's”.
View our full collection of Ladybird spook books here.