Learning to read, the ultimate voyage of discovery for today’s youngest, but this has been the custom since literature became widely available in the nineteenth century. We look at the differences in culture, relationships, and gender in the reading books of the sixties and those of the seventies.
In the books of the sixties, the body language of boys is confident and pro-active while girls are more cautious. Boys take on more active roles when playing games and getting wet, girls sit sunbathing and keeping their delicate dresses smoothed in place. Leaning out and taking risks is commonplace with males, while the females shelter and ensure they remain safe. Boys run speedily ahead taking the frontward position as girls lag dramatically behind.
We address a common Ladybird book published during the sixties: ‘Happy Holidays’. Traditions of the British sea-side holiday are explored throughout ‘Happy Holidays’, ice cream treats alongside the ritual of a pot of tea.
In the books, the girl appears to be much more advanced than boys at academic tasks, such as reading and writing. All the children featured are white and often Aryan, most appear to be British through traditional attire. Boys clothing is much more practical, T-Shirts and shorts while girls are dressed in delicate sun-dresses. Girls are shown to be interested in traditional female pursuits, identifying wild-flowers.
The seventies saw revolutionary progress in the content of children’s reading books. In this, we identify characteristics of the Ladybird classic, ‘Out of the Sun’.
As of the previous decade, the cover presents us with an image of the boy ahead assisting the weaker female. Boys are drawn toward hunter-gatherer activities while girls occupy themselves with female pursuits, such as picking flowers. Again the girls seek out feminine activities while the boys occupy themselves with the use of tools.
Aryan culture is being promoted, however children with varying hair colours and alternative features are now included. Although the children are predominantly white, those from ethnic minorities are now being visualized as active members of groups of friends. The notion of healthy eating is introduced and the ideals of patriotism presented through the Union Jack duvet cover. Girls now wear practical clothing and are clad in T-shirts and jeans. Rough and tumble games are explored by females, a girl tackles a dog with a walking stick. However, most revolutionary, we now see a girl getting wet and enjoying water sports games. Soaked in water, drenched through she emerges from the swimming pool, triumphant in her games play.
In the space of a decade, we move from girls sunbathing as boys play actively in the water to girls being fully emerged in water and pro-actively involved in pool sports. Although traditional male and female pursuits are still being presented in the seventies, the more practical clothing of girls is a significant step towards equality. The inclusion of ethnic minorities can be seen as a progressive move. The decade which embraced second wave feminism influence shown through children’s literature, a decade which laid the foundations for the gains we benefit from in contemporary society.