Jonathan Swift was born on 30 November 1667 and died on 19 October 1745. He was also known as Dean Swift as he became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He was a satirist, poet, writer of essays and political pamphlets. His famous book was first published in 1726, under the title ‘Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon and then a Captain of Several Ships’. Fortunately, this became known universally as ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. The most accessible and famous journeys described by Gulliver are those to Lilliput and Brobdingnag and those are the tales featured in the Ladybird book shown here. Lilliput is a land of tiny people, where Gulliver is a giant and the opposite is the case in Brobdingnag. The other two adventures were in Laputa, a flying Island and the country of the talking horses, the Houyhnhnms.
The vintage Ladybird books, with which many people will be familiar, were seven inches tall and four and a half inches wide (180mm x 112mm) and had 56 pages. The volume considered here was different. It was one of a short series published in 1977 each entitled a ‘Ladybird Special’. The other three books were ‘Aesop’s Fables’, ‘Aladdin and Ali Baba’ and ‘The Ladybird Book of Rhymes’. Note the latter was not devoted to Nursery Rhymes, but a greater range of verse. Each book was larger at approximately ten inches by seven inches. (250 X 180 mm) with 89 pages.
The original book was narrated by Gulliver, as if he was writing in his journal and this Ladybird Special ( and others that followed it) is likewise written in the first person. The tales have been simplified for children to read by Marie Stewart, with illustrations by Martin Aitcheson, who illustrated many Ladybird books and featured in ‘The Eagle’ comic. The suggested reading age is 8 -10 years old. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was out of print by 2004, but a revised version had been published in1995 and was itself out of print in 2008. Ladybird has published other versions of ‘Gulliver’, both before and after the ‘Special’ editions.
One website gives this ideal history of Ladybird books: ‘Once upon a time (1915 to be precise) in the far away land of Loughborough, Leicestershire, there was a printing company called Wills & Hepworth who registered a ladybird as a logo and set about publishing ‘pure and healthy literature’ for children.’ There were many books published in the traditional format from stories to history, transport, animals and science to reading schemes. Arguably the best loved were the ‘Well Loved Tales’, especially the first 27, by Vera Southgate. These books and their illustrations are fondly remembered by many people.