October 4, 2019
Donald Trump is the latest to face the satirical treatment from multi-million bestselling series Ladybirds for Grown-Ups
by Nikki Griffiths
The Ladybirds for Grown-Ups book series has been a crazy-successful phenomenon since its launch in 2015. So many of us (myself included) grew up reading Ladybird books—beautifully illustrated, slim children’s volumes telling charming stories, often fairy tales (my favourites) or informative little nonfiction reads. Ladybird was founded in 1915 and, as the Vintage Ladybird website explains:
For millions of people, they bring back the golden days of childhood—learning to read, discovering the magic of books, and growing up.
Ladybird Books were also unique in the fact that they were illustrated, not by children’s illustrators, but by high calibre commercial artists who specialised in their respective fields. This attention to detail and differentiation has led to the artwork being revered and cherished across generations.
It was this fondness for nostalgic artwork matched with simple storytelling that inspired writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris. Old school friends from Chelmsford, Essex, they are now in their 40s, living in London with their respective families. For years they worked as comedy writers for television, working with the likes of Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that they struck on an idea that was to sell literally millions of books worldwide. Esquire’s Tim Lewis met with the pair in 2016:
“People keep saying to us, ‘Where did you get the idea to bring back Ladybird books from?'” says Morris, who has rectangular glasses, neat musketeer facial hair and a Mastermind-level knowledge of the Richard Briers Eighties sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles. “Or they’d say, ‘It’s really nice to remember Ladybird books.’ And we thought, ‘Oh, you’d forgotten them?’ Because we lived with them and collected the artwork and collected the books since we were kids. As adults, when we went to a charity shop, we’d go and buy a Ladybird book. We’ve always been people who curated and collected old stuff and liked old graphics and things.”
“It’s not nostalgia,” clarifies Hazeley, sipping a pale ale. “It’s fetishisation, I suppose, of certain sorts of subject matter.”
Sentimentality mixed with satire is certainly what has made these must have books: in 2015 How it Works: the Husband was the Christmas number one in the UK and there are now thirty-five books in the series. The first in the series was the inspired The Hipster. Pairing up with Penguin, who own the Ladybird brand, Hazeley and Morris had access to an archive of over 12,000 original illustrations to inspire them. Hazeley told Esquire this meant The Hipster almost wrote itself:
“Finding images to go alongside the text did not take long … it turns out that almost anything retro or vintage-looking—a heavily bearded Arctic explorer, for example, or a man in a radiation suit mixing chemicals—could feasibly be a hipster. The characters were given carefully chosen and often very funny names, such as Ned the Third and Tiswas, which would become a feature of all the titles.”
The volume was swiftly followed by more including The Meeting (“Meetings are important because they give everyone a chance to talk about work … Which is easier than doing it”) and The Hangover (‘’A good hangover should be a total mystery to you. How did this happen? Why do you feel so ill?”) Last year, we wrote about the pair publishing The Story of Brexit, a topic which they vowed to never write about. It turned out to be a surprise hit. Morris and Hazeley wrote on the subject for the i paper this week, saying:
“We were initially concerned that our book might be overtaken by events, but at a research lunch with a prominent political editor, we were assured that despite the appearance of a frenzied news cycle, politics was actually trapped in a Groundhog Day stalemate. Sure enough, over a year later, the book is still selling, maybe because it remains a topical depiction of a nation attempting to achieve six impossible things before breakfast.”
All too depressingly true. They also vowed to never write about Donald Trump saying:
“Trump was impossible; there were 15,000 images in the Ladybird archive from which we drew our vintage illustrations, but nobody in human history has ever looked like that raging fistful of straw … The best joke, we eventually found, was to use the words you might use to talk to a child to explain the behaviour of another spoilt child. Kids comprehend Trump remarkably well.”
The new volume A Ladybird book about: Donald Trump published this week, on Super Thursday. Featuring a simple orange on the front cover (I wonder what that could be alluding to…?) expect extremely cutting gems such as:
“Before he was President, Donald’s job was being a millionaire. He has been doing this job since he was eight years old.
“Donald made his millions by taking them from his father, and then trying not to lose as many of them as he could.
“If everyone was as clever as Donald, everyone could be a millionaire.”
I think they could have another bestseller on their hands.
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.