There’s a much-loved book in Ladybird Land from 1960 called ‘The Party’ in which two young children go to their friend Ann’s birthday party.

In the story, they give Ann a gift which she unwraps right away – and to her delight she has a Ladybird book! The book is “The Farm” (which, with a typical Ladybird meta flourish, had been published in the same series as ‘The Party’, just 2 years earlier). Not only that, but Ann also gets a small pack of pencil-crayons and looks overjoyed with both.

Now not for the first time, I have been reminded that life in Ladybird Land is often a little different from the real life of the books’ young readers. On Facebook recently, Sally England recorded this moving and troubling personal account – and one with a rather complex moral:

When I was about ten I was invited to Ellen Baker’s birthday party.

On the day I pointed out to my mum that I ought to take a present but didn’t have one. Mum drove me to the nearest shop (Maddens, Hillmorton Road, Rugby – still the best hardware/general stores anywhere ever) and went in to get something.

She came back out with the Ladybird book of Oil.

Artist: Robert Ayton

I was distraught! Ellen Baker was really rather girly and I knew that the last thing she would want in life was a book about oil.

I kicked up a fuss, refused to go to Ellen’s party and ended up being sent to bed with no tea. But I did for many years after that have the Ladybird Book of Oil on my shelf, looking at me accusingly.

I still know that Ellen would have hated it.”