Ruby Reads (12): Ladybird, Alison Lester & Dylan

On the weekend I went to a family gathering – not a reunion, but a first-time gathering of the descendants of three Shaw brothers who came to Australia from Yorkshire in the 1860s and 70s. The event itself was fun and interesting, with at least one revelation that led to much hilarity, but what’s relevant to this blog is that I stayed with a niece, mother of two small girls. Here’s a) a book I read while stickybeaking on her bookshelves, and b) two books that were requested at bedtime. You’ll be able to tell which is which.

Jason Hazeley & Joel Morris, How it Works: The Mum (Michael Joseph 2016)

This is one of those books that sit on the front counters of bookshops inviting you to buy them as gifts. It’s a parody of a Little Golden Book (or Ladybird Book in the US UK (see Robert Day’s comment) edition as pictured here), using illustrations from 1960s children’s books and affecting a childlike tone in the text, but with an adult sting in the tail. This one is funny rather than cynical, wry rather than bitter. My niece’s favourite page is the one where the mum has an interview for a job but can’t get the theme tune from The Octonauts out of her head. Mine is the last page, where the mum rides her bike to work after an exhausting night and when she hears other mothers speak of their children’s exemplary behaviour is fortunately too tired to kill them.

At the end, there’s a sweet acknowledgement of the pleasure the authors derived from the original books, which reads as a sincere tribute rather than a legal requirement. The artists are listed, but I didn’t make a note of their names.

Alison Lester, Are We There Yet? (Viking 2005)

A family of five go on a trip around Australia in 32 pages. The refrain ‘Are we there yet?’ is irregular enough not to be annoying, but frequent enough that my seven year old great-niece could join me in saying it each time.

Regular readers will know that my main contact with children’s books these days is thanks to my 18 month old granddaughter. This book is a reminder of past reading pleasures and a sweet harbinger of things to come. Alison Lester’s images are completely beguiling.

Bob Dylan (lyrics), Jim Arnosky (images), Man Gave Names to All the Animals (Sterling 1999)

This is a rare thing, a picture book with Bob Dylan lyrics as the text. The song is from the 1979 album Slow Train Coming, from BD’s born-again Christian era. It was hard to tell if my young relatives (who were not only sleepy but also slightly anxious at being read to by a virtual stranger) enjoyed it very much. But the illustrations are gorgeous, every page crowded with splendid animals, many more than are mentioned in the song. The book comes with a CD attached – our copy was from the library, and the CD-less.

I may be a feminist Climate Crisis prig, but front and centre for me was the title’s erasure of female humans and its assertion of human separateness from ‘all the animals’, both of which made it hard for me to love the book or the song.

Are We There Yet? is the twenty-fourth book I’ve read for the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge

6 responses to “Ruby Reads (12): Ladybird, Alison Lester & Dylan

  1. I am going to go back through your lists and make a list for 12-month old grandson. We were in Melbourne last weekend for his first birthday, and babysat a couple of times. However, he had a cold so we didn’t get up to a lot. However, I did read to him, again, Brown bear, which we took down in April, and he seem to enjoy it. I love it because it is rich enough to carry through for some time. Right now of course, for example, he doesn’t know the colours.

    For this birthday, I bought him Bear hunt (for his great-grandparents to give him) and we gave him Alison Lester’s Noni the Pony (but that was on the last day.) Lester being the connection to this post of yours of course!!

    They are coming up next week for g-grandma’s 90th, and I look forward to pulling out some of the kids picture books that we’ve kept.

    PS Yes, I worked out which was A and which were B, BTW. I’m clever that way!! Haha.


  2. Someone on the weekend did make fun of grandparents who go on about their baby grandchildren, but I don’t care! May your grandson give you, and his g-grandparents, as much pleasure and intellectual stimulation as my granddaughter has me.


  3. The Ladybird Books were the UK editions rather than the US ones; both the originals and the modern parodies started in the UK. The whole genre of fake childrens’ books for adults actually started with a pastiche that Penguin (who now own the Ladybird imprint) started out by stomping on from a legal height, and which they then imitated shamelessly.

    See my review of Miriam Elia’s ‘We Go to the Gallery’ here:

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much for that, Robert. If I didn’t already love my comments section, I certainly would now. Who’d have thought that behind this little book there lay a story of such corporate skulduggery! (By the way, these little books don’t just appeal to baby boomers as you imply in your post about Miriam Elia’s book – my niece is definitely Gen X, if not Y.)


  4. kathyprokhovnik

    All power to feminist climate crisis prigs!

    Liked by 1 person

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