Once upon a time, when you were young and your parents took you to visit grown-up friends and family, you were probably often bored. No smartphones or computers and very limited children’s TV programming. If there were no children around, there were probably no books or comics. You had to forage quite hard to find something to distract yourself with. In my case, I remember long evenings trying to entertain myself with my granddad’s rose catalogue (checking every page to ensure that the rose labelled ‘H’ was the most beautiful for the unimpressive reason that my name begins with ‘H’). Of course, there was also the button-box and the coal fire and poker and any games you could invent that required a well-thumbed, incomplete pack of cards.
But there was one potential source of amusement which never attracted my enthusiasm and that was the neat pile of Readers Digest magazines which were always sitting in a neat pile in the spare room. The covers all looked much the same. They were pale and very wordy and if you picked them up, words were everywhere. There was usually a thin strip of a picture running down the left side of the cover – but it was never clear what this was meant to be.
Then one day boredom compelled me to ask why the magazines would have this seemingly pointless thin and undefined border on the side and I actually turned a copy over. I made a discovery. The thin strip was just a hint at the very pretty picture which took up the whole of the back cover.
I went through the whole pile of Readers Digest magazines and laid them out on the carpet, revelling in the pictures and, more importantly, at my own cleverness in following clues to find this treasure.
More than 40 years pass and I’d almost forgotten this scene until one day fairly recently when I was hunting online for further artwork that might have been produced by Ladybird book artists. Those thin strips of an image again came into play as I looked through online pictures of piles of Readers Digest for sale, trying to identify from that very slender piece of information whether a given picture was by a Ladybird artist. (I am currently revelling in my own cleverness again as I’ve so far got all but one right).
I’ve just laid some of my newly purchased treasures out on the carpet and experienced a similar feeling of satisfaction to that experienced by my 7 year-old self. So far I’ve found lovely artwork by Ladybird artists Ronald Lampitt, S R Badmin and Rowland Hilder.
I’ve done a bit of research (ie, took, a quick look on Wikipedia) and Readers Digest began in the USA in 1922. It is, I believe, still going strong today, with versions in many different languages, and in many different countries, first reaching the UK in 1938.
Like Ladybird, part of the appeal may be in the format; the volumes are half the size of the average magazine. That said though, I don’t think I’ve ever read one. Even after 40 years, looking at nice pictures is more my thing.
And I still like looking through a good button-box.