Peter and Jane

The Key Words Reading Scheme is a series of 36 ‘English Learners Early Readers Children’s  Books’ that were published by Ladybird in the early 1960’s. The books were more commonly referred to as ‘Peter and Jane’ after the names of the main characters. The first book was published in 1964 and by 1967 the 36th of the series was published. Over 80 million copies of the books were published worldwide and in 2013 they were still being produced. They were designed as a teaching material to help young children lean to read, they went up in stages with each stage aimed at a certain age range and introducing new words as the child grew up. These books were iconic and known by most who grew up in the 60’s, but a lot of the stories soon became outdated.

In 2015 the Mail Online released an article demonstrating the changes in society since the 1960’s when ‘Peter and Jane’ were most popular. Whilst reading this article I realise that the gender roles in the Ladybird books had already been challenged and examined; and through illustration, they have been reworked. Helen Day, a collector of over 10,000 Ladybird publications has shared her comparisons on social media. She looks at the original prints from 1964 and compared them to updated illustrations from the 70’s and 80’s. (It didn’t take long for society to realise Peter and Jane were sending the wrong messages.) The updated illustrations showed a changing Britain and explored different aspects of society in the 60’s and 70’s. The new copies showed more safety cautions in place, new clothes for Jane and gender roles challenged.  Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 14.07.22.png

In this comparison we see Jane loose her frilly white dress and switch it for some loose jeans and a baggy jumper. in just 10 years the ideals of what girls were expected to wear changed and they were no longer imagined in the innocence of a pure white dress. Not only do we see her pictured in more comfortable clothes, she has ditched the toy pram and doll and switched them for a pair of roller skates. It seems buy the 70’s we’d realised that stereotyping girls toys was wrong and girls are more than ok to take part in physical games and keep up with the boys.

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In the original of these images we see the Mother wrapping gifts for christmas while the Father watches over her. Once again in just a few years we see the father dropping the supervisor role and getting involved. It wasn’t mention in the article for this particular set of images, but I also think that the choice of clothing is interesting, in the first image the Father sits in a full suit, whilst in the later image he is dressed down and looking more relaxed. This drops the idea that the father is a domineering and professional role, in the first books, dressing the father like this reiterates that he is the breadwinner and has a more important and serious role than the mother. This seems to have all changed by the 70’s.

Many of the images show further the change in gender roles between the two children. We see Jane actively helping put up a tent rather than the original watching her brother be physical while holding the material awaiting instruction. We also once again see Jane ditch the dress and opted for a more relaxed, casual look in trouser and a t-shirt, the same as her brother Peter. In the second set of images we have Jane depicted playing the typically ‘girly’ activity of jump rope, Peter is not playing. This was transformed into Jane jumping over box in her jeans with Pat, the dog. Jane sticks to the jeans a she quits looking for a doll in the toy store and moves on to the skate board section in the third pair of illustrations, while Peter takes on the fielding role in their cricket game giving Jane the chance to bat. The last set of images shows a switch in roles in cricket, showing Jane getting much more involved and showing her making Peter work hard to keep up with her batting skills. So many of the drawings from the original books demonstrate old fashioned stereo types of gender roles with the children and the parents.

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The updated copies also show a development in racial awareness as this scene of talking children gets reworked to make it more multi cultural.


This comparison shows the domestic bliss of the original being shattered by the more likely version of the brother and sister fighting in the garden. It wasn’t the key comparison of this pair of images, yet we once again see gender roles challenged as Jane puts down the book after reading with Mother and Peter quits helping Father with the gardening to scrap with his sister.


We see health and safety challenged in theses images as in the 1960’s version no own is wearing a seatbelt, this would be an outrage in this day and age and by the 70’s seat belts were added to the illustrations. Jane also got the front seat with her brother in the back as opposed to the original.

There are many aspects of the Peter and Jane stories that are seen as old fashioned in todays society, but by far the most prominent is the stereotyping of gender roles and this is what I am most interested in. I want to rework the books even further, through photography, making them even more up to date with todays society. A lot had changed by the 70’s and 80’s but even more so by now. Even the updated versions show every little diversity when it comes to race, sexuality and gender. This is what I want to experiment with when remaking the books.


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