The Adventures of Wonk (Ladybird Series 417)
The other day, I was handed some new Ladybird books that had come into our possession and was thrilled to see five of the six titles in 'The Adventures of Wonk' series.
This series, number 417, was the third series undertaken by Wills and Hepworth in their now familiar small Ladybird format. The books were all written by Muriel Levy ('Auntie Muriel of Radio fame' as it states on the title pages - see below right) and illustrated with beautiful and vivid full colour pictures by Kiddell-Monroe. Wills and Hepworth published them between 1941 and 1948.
Each title recounts the everyday adventures of Wonk, a sleepy, loveable Koala character, and his best friend, a young boy named Peter.
As with a majority of the Ladybird fictional titles, you are straight into the action without much introduction, the striking illustrations helping the imagination along. Throughout each adventure you build up a sense of the differing personalities of the two characters and how they compliment each other.
Wonk, like most Koalas, is often thinking of sleep, or falling asleep. An example of this can be seen in 'Going to Sea' where Wonk just wants to sleep and 'dream about a beautiful dinner', whereas Peter wants to expand his knowledge of ships and the sea, so that he can write about the Navy when he grows up. Later on in the same story, on finding a comfy bedroom Wonk promptly climbs into bed and is soon dreaming of eating - another of his favourite pastimes!
It appears that very often it is Peter that initiates the adventures, but of course Wonk joins in, being Peter's very best friend. However, a change to this can be seen in 'Adventure in the Night', where it is Wonk who suggests they visit the garden at night to try to cool down. Even Peter is 'greatly surprised at Wonk's sudden daring' and tries to dissuade him. However, the daring attitude doesn't last for long when the night time animals startle a frightened Wonk and he end up 'completely alone'.
Another side to Wonk's character emerges during the story 'Kidnapped'. 'Fatal curiosity' gets the better of Wonk who would usually rather not get involved in adventures, whereas Peter is the voice of reason through instructions from his mother. Wonk finds himself being whisked away in a travelling caravan so that he can 'dance for pennies'. Nearly fainting from shock at that announcement, he wishes that he had listened to Peter and soon puts a plan into action to escape!
Peter is a more exuberant character, like many young boys he wants fun and adventure at every possible opportunity. When he can't be having the adventure himself, he likes to imagine them, as in 'The Secret' where he is engrossed in an exciting pirate novel, imagining himself as the hero tying up the pirate chief!
'The Snowman' shows Peter's love of fun, where he enjoys playing with all the children in the snow - throwing snowballs and hiding from Wonk. He has SO much fun that he temporarily forgets about his friend and then can't find Wonk, but has a snowman chasing him home instead. A more caring side of Peter is seen at the end of 'Adventure in the Night', where Wonk gets a cold and Peter looks after him, even feeding him gruel.
The characters have many more facets to their personalities - too many to mention in one article.
The time period in which the books were written, the 1940's, is very well reflected in the content of the stories. For example, it seems something that often leads Wonk and Peter into adventures, is money - or the quest for it. In 'Strawberries and Cream' it is the wish for 'something nice and cooling' which determines that the pair need to work for some money. A gardener offers them a job picking strawberries with strict instructions NOT to eat any of them. However, in true Wonk and Peter (and Ladybird) style, they seem to land on their feet by having their cake (or strawberries) and eating it too! Other examples of the adventures in which money plays a part are 'The Diamond Ring Affair', in which Peter has some money burning a hole in his pocket, and 'Fireworks', where the pair again have to work to make some money.
Through all the stories it seems that Peter and Wonk are fairly care-free and left to their own devices much of the time, thus capturing the innocence of childhood and the essence of the period.
There are twelve adventures in total - two in each book. The titles are as follows:
1 - Going to Sea & The New Fishing Net (Published 1941)
2 - Strawberries and Cream & Adventures in the Night (Published 1941)
3 - Fireworks & The Diamond Ring Affair (Published 1941)
4 - The Secret & The Night Watchman (Published 1945)
5 - The Circus & Wonk Flies High (Published 1948)
6 - The Snowman & Kidnapped (Published 1948)
The books were published with different colour textured boards, with a colour line drawing of Wonk and the title to the front covers. The endpapers, in all the titles that I have seen are white, with repeated blue line drawings of Wonk, Peter and plant stems. Opposite each text page is a full page colour illustration relating to the story.
All of the books originally came with colour dustwrappers, with titles to the front panel, but not the spine. On researching this article, I discovered that for at least the first three titles, there were two slightly different dustwrappers printed (see the'Fireworks' wrappers above). Some had 'The Adventures of Wonk' written in yellow, in a black strip across the top of the front of the dustwrapper and then the title of the actual book in smaller black print further down on the illustration.
This design was reversed in the other dustwrappers so the actual title, for example 'Strawberries and Cream', was written in yellow, in a black strip across the top of the front of the wrapper and then 'The Adventures of Wonk' was in black print further down the dustwrapper. However, for both, the same colour illustration was used. Looking at previous stock, we have definitely seen two different wrappers for the first three titles in the series. Another source says that there are two different wrappers for 'The Secret' also - not that we have seen both of these. As for 'The Circus' and 'The Snowman', we have only ever seen one type of wrapper, with the title across the top in yellow and 'The Adventures of Wonk' further down the front panel.
Wonk books are becoming increasingly difficult to find with their original wrappers, due to the fragile nature of the paper used at the time of publication. Many copies have damage to the spine on the book which is also fragile. Although these books do have some reprint copies, the books were never republished in a cheaper 'matt' format, as many other Ladybird titles were.
However, what true collection of Ladybird books would be complete without the amusing and charming 'Adventures of Wonk'!
To see our current collection of Series 417 - The Adventures of Wonk - please click here.
Contributed by Joanne