497- animal stories

Perhaps the most attractive of all the Ladybird sets, series 497 represents for many people an almost dream-like view of how things were in their childhood. At best however, they show how we like to think life was in those far-off post-war days. Throughout the series, the words of Noel Barr are perfectly matched by the artwork of P.B. Hickling, who portrays the world of Mick, Tiptoes, Beaky, Ned et al in a beautiful wash of colour. One would imagine Hickling was no youngster, since the world in which his characters live could as easily be 1920 as 1950. Daddy always wears his best business hat, Televisions and even radios are nowhere to be seen, rooms are dusted by Maids and everyone seems to live in a farm, or at least, in the countryside. This is the world of Beatrix Potter, where animals talk and the sun almost always shines.

The series was a great success, as evidenced by the number of copies that still turn up in charity and bookshops. Almost unique amongst Ladybird seriesí 497 had the same author/artist combination throughout, which gives it a continuity perhaps a little lacking in other series where different artists brought in their own style.


Edition spotting
All covers followed the same format, an illustration occupying 2/3 of the page, the title on top and a thin coloured strip at the bottom. Earlier editions carried "A Ladybird Book" on this lower strip, along with delightful inside cover black & white illustrations. They were also printed on paper with a slight yellow/brown tint and featured the same cover illustration stuck onto the (white) cover of the book, underneath the dust-jacket. Spine text ran from bottom to top and the books are generally thicker. The edition number was also shown. Mid-period editions had plain brown covers under the DJ, no date, spine text from top to bottom and lost the wonderful inside-cover illustration. Still later editions had the familiar blue LB logo on the inside covers and the final editions were with plain matt cover.

The series also survived the transition to matt covers, although I donít know if the complete set were issued in that format. On my edition of the Discontented Pony (with blue inside logo), the rear inside-cover only mentions 6 books in the series. Presumably the missing titles had been deemed too old-fashioned and discontinued. Editions are undated once they exceeded the first half-dozen pressings.

The Inquisitive Harvest Mouse
The first in the series dates from 1949 (hence series 497) and tells the story of a mouse who falls into the hands of a little girl named Susan, who "would dearly love to keep the little mouse for a pet, but she is very kind and restores him to his family unharmed.

Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten
The eponymous Kitten is indeed a bit of a handful, creating absolute havoc in the Moffats household, jumping on the baby, pulling Grannyís knitting everywhere, knocking bowls over and ripping open pillows. whether he also left "little presents" around the house is tactfully left to our imagination, as is the cause of the three little kittens who appear at the end.

The Wise Robin
This edition (which seems to crop up more often than some of the others) features the Story of Mr Robin (Bob, to his friends) who is nagged mercilessly by his wife to steal some Christmas decorations for her nest. After much confusion, he manages to do this and her nest "was admired by all who saw it". All those happening to wander about the rafters of the barn, presumably. "Daddy" seems to occupy the same suit he uses for the other books and they are lucky enough to have a maid to do the dusting.

The Discontented Pony
This is a short stroy about "a pony called Merrylegs who leaves his home to seek the excitement of a life as a round-a-bout horse at a fair." Merrylegs finds a circus but is pressed into service as a cart horse by a man "dressed only in shirt and trousers and his hair stood on end". The poor pony has a bad trip one evening and haluciantes about becoming a horse on a roundabout. When he surfaces, home seems much more appealing, so he escapes back to Daisy and Squeaker at the farm.

The Conceited Lamb
The illustrations in this story of the vain and conceited Snowball are my favourites of the whole series; bright colours, animated artwork and with delightful scenarios. The lamb wanders around his farm, generally pissing-off the rest of the animals, until he falls into a bucket of black dye, apparently permenant. A bit like the ugly duckling in reverse.



Ned the Lonely Donkey
Ned is a little grey donkey who leaves his home in search of a friend. Guided by the wisdom of an owl, he tries a number of alternative lifestyles until finally making friends with Timothy, the lonely boy, who undoubtedly saves Ned from becoming a set of candles at the knackers yard.


Mick the disobedient Puppy
Once again beautifully illustrated, this tells the story of Mick the "black poodle with bright eyes in its wooly face". (Presumably he wouldnít have been so naughty without them..) As ever, he makes life a misery for Mr & Mrs Brown and their son Peter. However, he discovers a fire (the kitchen rug, of all things) in true "Skippy the bush kangaroo" fashion and saves the day.


The Sleepy Water Vole
I can only presume this was the last in the series, since it isnít mentioned on any of the other covers. Mr and Mrs WaterVole, Squidgy and Brownie, to their friends, somewhat carelessly lose their children ("Oh dear, sighed Brownie, our children are gone") after falling asleep during a flash flood. Thankfully, their neighbour Mr Short-Tail was a tad more alert and had spotted them. All ends happily. Excellent illustrations, as ever.

Beaky the greedy Duck
I'm not going to spolit this story by giving away the punch-line, you'll simply have to find a copy for yourself. I shan't even mention the words "stuffing" and "pate". However, the picture shows how the earlier editions looked underneath the dust-jacket. The cover material had a distinctive embossed pattern on it, with a page from within cut out and stuck on. When the company realised how much extra work this represented, the process was discontinued in favour of the standard brown cover.