The new books are part of a series of projects celebrating Ladybird’s centenary this year. Penguin has also released Ladybird by Design, a look at the publisher’s visual history written by LCC School of Design Dean Lawrence Zeegen, and re-released some popular Ladybird titles.
Hazeley and Morris, who have worked on Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe, That Mitchell & Webb Look, The Armstrong & Miller Show and last year’s Paddington film, say they wanted to create a collection of books that would help adults make sense of the world. In an interview with The Independent, Morris says the pair were keen to use original Ladybird illustrations and write the books “as if we were time travellers from the 1960s looking at stuff such as online dating and night clubs”.
The result is a wry (and often, laugh-out-loud funny) critique of modern life and current trends. The Book of the Hipster pokes fun at those obsessed with obscure music, artisanal foods and vintage objects with no discernible purpose, while The Book of Mindfulness sends up an obsession with finding fulfilment and achieving ‘self-realisation’. “Alison has been staring at this beautiful tree for five hours. She was meant to be in the office. Tomorrow she will be fired. In this way, mindfulness will have solved her work related stress,” it reads.
Morris and Hazeley also draw on the fears we all experience as adults: fear of getting old, of not fulfilling our ambitions and of being alone. The Book of the Mid-Life Crisis, for example, begins with the bleak and somewhat terrifying statement: “When we are young, we all dream of doing something wonderful and exciting with our lives… Anything is possible. And then, one day, it isn’t” while dating is described as “a fun way of meeting someone who is as terrified as dying alone as you are.”
The books, however, have come in for criticism from artist Miriam Elia. In February she released We Go To the Gallery, a satirical look at modern art written in the style of the publisher’s popular Peter and Jane books. Elia published 1000 copies of the book after raising money through Kickstarter but was asked to stop selling it by Penguin, which claimed that the reference to Ladybird on the book’s cover, and some of the collages within it, were in breach of their copyright.
Elia has since re-designed and re-released the book, with Ladybird references changed to mention of a fictional imprint, Dung Beetle, but was evidently none too impressed when she heard about Penguin’s new Ladybird series earlier this month. The artist published a statement on her website sarcastically congratulating Penguin on coming up with “a concept that they copied from me”.
Penguin, however, point out that Morris and Hazeley had created Ladybird pastiches as early as 2003 – some of which are featured in a book based on their spoof local newspaper site The Framley Examiner which was published by Penguin.
The brilliant Scarfolk project has also been parodying Ladybird books from at least as far back as 2013, while a quick Google search reveals dozens of others.
“This idea took shape after [Morris and Hazeley] had been talking about who, in a perfect world, they’d like to be published by. After running through a load of illustrious names like Jonathan Cape, Faber and Faber and even Penguin, they both settled on Ladybird,” says a spokesperson for Penguin.
“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 of 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.”