No – this isn’t some statement about the state of UK politics (although – maybe it should be!) but instead the question posed in the title of this week’s Ladybird book choice.
What on Earth are we doing? is part of Ladybird’s 1970s Conservation series (series 727). These books seem to have been published with two different cover versions, but I have to be honest and say that I’m not exactly sure which version of the cover came first. This title was published in 1976 and judging by the man on the cover of both versions I believe it to be just the covers that differ, with the inner pages remaining the same.
There is something that makes this particular Ladybird title a bit special though and links it back to the original Ladybird nature titles, despite it’s very 70s appearance.
What on Earth are we doing? is credited as having two authors, D H Keen and G E Simmons (and was illustrated by Pat Oakley of Hurlston Design, Birmingham) but it is the first of these authors that is of particular interest and this mysterious sounding D H Keen plays a very important role in the Ladybird story.
Douglas Keen first joined Wills and Hepworth (the original publishers of Ladybird) as a travelling salesman in 1936 and returned to the company after returning from service in the Second World War. Wills and Hepworth had started publishing Ladybird books during the war and it had been their intention to revert back to printing car brochures once the war was over. Keen was keen (excuse the pun) to convince Wills and Hepworth to continue publishing Ladybird books as he could see how successful they were. The first Ladybird books were based on fair stories and animal tales but Keen could see a market for education titles too and as he had a passion for the natural world he set about, with his wife, to make a prototype book entitled A Book of Birds and Eggs. His work paid off and Ladybird used his prototype as the basis for the book British Birds and their Nests.
So, how does this link in with What on Earth are we doing? Well, author D H Keen is no other than Douglas Keen. And What on Earth are we doing? is said to be the only title where he is credited as co-author. The book itself covers all the different ways in which man’s life impacts on the planet, and what we can do to change that impact. It starts of by talking about how this is “a book about you” and the world itself. There are pages on the land and the impact of farming methods on it, as well as talking about towns and cities, pollution and means of travel. The book also talks about how the Earth’s population is growing and how the planet’s resources aren’t necessarily enough to feed everyone if the population continues to grow at the expected rate.
In a way it was seen as a slightly controversial book, but one that I think was also very important in educating young readers about what was going on to the world around them through man’s actions.
As a Ladybird collector it raises lots of questions for me about exactly who Pat Oakley was and why a design company were credited will illustrating the title. I’m guessing (and it really is only a guess) that they may have been commissioned to illustrate a whole series, but it’s something I feel I ought to go and research more before I can properly call myself a Ladybird collector.
Once I’ve moved and got my collection all in one place I think it will be time to properly swot up on everything and try to earn my collector stripes!
This post first appeared on Ladybird Tuesday over on Being Mrs C. I am currently in the process of moving all these posts over to their new home on Penny Reads. To see the posts that have already moved over take a look at this page.