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Learning to read has always been one of the stated aims of Ladybird books and there have been many different series' trying to help achieve that aim. Indeed, in the 90's it might be argued that this was their sole aim. The "Garden Gang" series was a brave attempt to bring a new approach to early learning, that of a book for children written and illustrated by a child, in this case, Jayne Fisher. Here is her CV from the sleeve notes;

A GG Annual, with new stories issued  1981"Jayne Fisher is the youngest every Ladybird author. She was only nine years old when she first started writing these charming stories about fruit and vegetable characters. Writing and drawing aren't Jayne's only interests. She has studied for the Ribbon awards of the Royal School of Church Music, and plays the classical guitar and the recorder. Jayne sews, bakes, reads avidly, plays chess and keeps two gerbils and breeds stick insects. But it is perhaps her own garden at home which gave her the ideas for these stories. Jayne's bold, colourful felt-tipped pen illustrations are bound to appeal to young children and we can all learn a few lessons from the characters in the Garden Gang."

the 9 year old wunderkind.Her stories all feature charming little fruit & veg characters, most of which are refreshingly one-dimensional; Oliver Onion has a BO problem, Colin Cucumber was rude, Penelope Strawberry was snooty and vain and Roger Radish was "awfully, awfully, awfully shy". Her knowledge of vegetable types was clearly impressive. Needless to say, all ended happily and there wasn't a food processor in sight. Looking back at the artwork, it's easy to dismiss it, but adults rarely have the same tastes as children and the series was reprinted at least twice (later editions had a white cover compared to early green ones) so it must have sold well.

a later pressing with white coverIt's amazing that she found time to write these books with all her other hobbies, and a surprise that she never wrote "breeding stick insects", a title that would have undoubtedly found sympathy in China. The phrase "child prodigy" springs to mind and the Sunday School ethics that permeate the books indicate she may have had a religious background. The only mystery was why Jayne, with her evident thirst for power, never ended up as Prime Minister! Does anyone know what became of her? She'd be around 30 now….

me and da boys

The first series of the Garden Gang was issued under the series number 413, with green covers and a b/w photo of Jayne on the back. The same green covers were used when the series migrated to number 793 and the whole lot was then reissued in white covers!

Alice Apple Avril Apricot Colin Cucumber
Gertrude Gooseberry Lucy Leek Oliver Onion
Oscar Orange Pam Parsnip Patrick Pear
Pedro Pepper Penelope Strawberry Percival Pea
Peter Potato Robert Raspberry Sheila Shallot
Simon Swede Wee Wille Water Melon

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