June 16th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Reflections on the bicentenary of the birth of Karl Marx

EDITORIAL Significance of report into shooting down of MH17

CANBERRA OBSERVED Lee Rhiannon: too Bolshie or not Bolshie enough?

POLITICS Wading further through the Greens party bilge

ECONOMICS Vatican document nails some of the causes of the GFC

POLITICS Greens promise to keep Australia legally stoned and welfare dependent

ENVIRONMENT Scientist sacked for challenging claims of demise of Great Barrier Reef

REDEFINITION OF MARRIAGE Humpty Dumpty has his way with words

CHRISTIANITY AND SOCIETY Tradition, Christianity and the law in contemporary Australia

EDUCATION Ladybird, ladybird: adventures in literacy

OFFICE LAUNCH NCC Sydney: a new chapter in a continuing story

ASIAN AFFAIRS Indonesia takes religious syncretism to the nth degree

WA RALLY FOR LIFE 3300 crosses in Perth poignant reminders of abortions

HUMOUR News snippets

PHILOSOPHY Bendigo initiative

MUSIC Gain is loss: Where is there left to discover?

CINEMA 2001: A Space Odyssey: Unsurpassed 50 years on

BOOK REVIEW The house that could not stand

BOOK REVIEW Australia's first official war historian

LETTERS

EDITORIAL China's pivotal role in Trump-Kim summit

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EDUCATION
Ladybird, ladybird: adventures in literacy


by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, June 16, 2018

Any parent of young children who finds any of the old British Ladybird series of books at a second-hand bookshop or book sale should snap them up.

All of 64 pages, they consist of a number of series about history, general knowledge, “how to”, etc. for children, are well illustrated and laid out and, as far as I can see, accurate.

They have become collectors’ items, and deservedly so. They teach things like sailing, basic science, simple electronics, maths, introductions to some of the great literary classics, how various industries function, and much else.

In early 21st century Britain, science and technology, except perhaps for IT, but certainly in the case of space research, have a quaint, dated air, with 1950s’ resonances of The Sound Barrier (its pioneering aircraft called the “Prometheus”), “Dan Dare”, and school boys wishing to be test-pilots or aircraft designers.

The gradual decline and downgrading of science and technology in popular culture is easy to trace. In the post-war Quatermass television series, science and technology, though they could be abused, were at least portrayed as important. By the time of the later James Bond films, they had become merely comic.

It was poignant to read this in the Ladybird children’s book on London, from 1961: “There are many fine museums in London, but the one we will go to next is the Science Museum in South Kensington. What an exciting place it is!”

Yes, it was taken for granted then that children would be excited by exploring and discovering science for themselves, rather than by Playstations and rock bands, and before the 1960s had wreaked cultural devastation.

The “readers”, stories written to encourage children to read and increase their vocabularies, also have a sunniness and innocence about them refreshing to encounter.

In the introduction to his last collection of writings, Enough Said, British journalist and celebrated Times columnist Bernard Levin sounded a note of despair at the darkness of what he had to deal with:

“What has happened? … I tried to give you brightness, my readers, but I fear that I have failed. I was not just giving you a catalogue of crimes and other wickednesses. I was driving into my readers’ heads, and into my own, that terrible thought that the growing pile of awfulness might never be shovelled away.”

I think we all have feelings like that sometimes, particularly any professional commentators on the state of the world, and the little stories in the Ladybird Readers are, in their way, a good antidote of brightness and sunniness.

Take Adventure at the Castle, book Number 10b in The Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme, published in 1968. The plot is simple: two boys on holiday find that another boy in a moated castle is trying to signal them. They eventually discover that he is not doing this simply as a game but because he is alone in the castle with his uncle, who is very sick and needs help, and he can’t get out.

The situation of a boy isolated with a sick old man and trying to summon help is not exactly everyday, but it is at least plausible. The boys succeed in getting help, and the old man is taken to hospital. They are asked to stay at the castle until he recovers. They find a treasure in a secret compartment there – not a fantastic, unbelievable hoard, but a modest, realistic one: four rings and six coins. Three of the coins are gold and the boys receive a reward of two of the coins each: one gold and one silver.

Not many children really have such an adventure, but the story is plausible in the way that Arthur Ransome’s lovely children’s stories about sailing and camping are plausible. It is also a gentle and innocent story, set like Ransome’s, in a world in which it is taken for granted that it is normal to behave well, and to be kindly and helpful.

There are much worse models of life to present to children than the stories in the Ladybird Readers. They teach reading, too, something not to be discounted when there is widespread dismay at the standards of literacy among children. A child who has read a reasonable section of the Ladybird books will be literate as well as having acquired a swag of general knowledge.

Unlike some readers, which are so boring that they put children off reading, there is some suspense, and the “plausibility” of the situation enables children to make contact with the story as they could not with something more obviously fantastic (which is not to deny fantasy’s place in storytelling). In their way, these little books are works of art.

I have a notion that gentle and innocent stories like this, if re-issued today, might prove popular enough to take the publishing industry by surprise.




























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