ELDERFLOWER blooms and briar roses frame a ripened wheat field. In the distance, a farmer in orange overalls is cutting corn. Two swallows swoop across the page, disturbing a meadow brown butterfly. Fluffy clouds and a blue sky provide a backdrop for the words What to Look For in Summer: a Ladybird Nature Book. Inside my edition is an inscription: ‘To Christopher, with love from Mummy, July 1963.’ No doubt this was Christopher’s first field guide, one of a quartet of Ladybird books that have guided millions of children —and adults—through the British seasons since the series first appeared in 1959.
The four books promise that, with their assistance, ‘the pleasure of a day—or night —in the country is greatly increased’. The poetic text by E. L. Grant Watson (cow parsnip seeds ‘taste of earth, autumn and sunshine’) sits alongside exquisite illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe. The now instantly recognisable covers adorn stationery, giftware and postcards, with Ladybird’s mid-century style achieving something of a cult status.
The British countryside has not aged so well, however. The cover of What to Look For in Autumn depicts a red squirrel burying her nuts under a tree stump, accompanied by a jay and a blackbird. The birds are, thankfully, still part of our woodland, but red squirrels have been almost wiped out in recent decades. Then, there’s the turtle dove, which What to Look For in Spring encourages readers to seek out among horse-chestnut trees. Even experienced birders struggle to spot this summer migrant, now on the RSPB’s red list of conservation concern. Cognisant of these developments—as well as broader cultural changes—Ladybird has recently updated the ‘What to Look For’ series, with four new editions released this year.
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