Ladybird Books, the hugely successful series of children’s books, celebrated their 100th anniversary four years ago.
The books used to be incredibly sexist: girls helped Mummy in the kitchen, boys helped Daddy in the garage and men made up the non-domestic labour force.
Families were mostly middle-class and white. Nowadays, Ladybird Books are more careful in the way people are depicted but the legacy of what they once were is hard to shake off. Parodies abound and rightfully so.
“We do Christmas” satirises not just Ladybird Books but the concept of Christmas and its spirit of good cheer. It begins with Mummy, daughter Susan and son John heading down the road for some Xmas shopping. The vocabulary-learning list of new words at the bottom of the page are ‘credit’, ‘debit’ and ‘habit’.
On the second page, Susan admires a pair of shoes in a shop window. Mummy says, “You like smoking the crack pipe of consumer capitalism”.
When the family see a nativity scene in another window, John identifies the baby Jesus in the crib scene – “He died so that we could go shopping”, observes Mummy. The vocabulary list reads “Jesus & Co”.
You soon get the idea behind “We do Christmas” and there is enough truth behind the parody to make it a book worth reading at this particular time of the year.
When the Elia sisters self-published the first of their books, a formal letter was received from Penguin threatening legal action for breach of copyright. They had used the same Ladybird children’s names, Peter and Jane, and the word Ladybird was cited on the front cover. Subsequent books in the series appear under the imprint, Dung Beetle, with a new Dung Beetle reading scheme and different names for the two children.
There are three other titles in the series –“We go out” and “We go to the gallery”– and it’s the last of these that makes for the most enjoyable reading after “We do Christmas”.
There is also “Piggy goes to university”, by Miriam and Ezra Elia and written with similar satirical intent, though not in the LadyBird book style.
The storyline follows the experiences of a pig who leaves home to go to university. While every home with an Xmas tree should have a copy of “We do Christmas” as the bottom of it, “Piggy goes to university” suggests itself as a present for young people who be embarking on a third-level education course next year.
Or, give up smoking the crack pipe of consumer capitalism, stop buying festive baubles and cease the whole Xmas fandango.
“We do Christmas”, by M. Elia and E. Elia, is published by Dung Bettle Books