The Art Of Ladybird Books Celebrated At Havant Museum

By Helen Kane | 04 September 2008
a book cover called Boys and Girls A Ladybird book of Childhood

© Ladybird Books Ltd MMVIII

If your personal childhood memories conjure up happy afternoons making toy snakes out of empty cotton reels or even stilts out of string and syrup tins, you can probably count yourself as one of the Ladybird book generation.

Popular book publishers Ladybird produced iconic titles for children on every subject, and The Make and Do series (or Ladybird Series 633 to give it it’s correct title) launched in the early 1960s was particularly successful.

In a nostalgic celebration of the retro series, Havant Gallery is hosting the touring exhibition about the Ladybird Make Do and Mend series until November 1 2008. The exhibition draws on material from the Ladybird Archive including twenty-four pieces of original artwork from Things To Make (1963), Tricks and Magic (1969), More Things To Make (1973) and Easy to Make Puppets (1973).

a drawing of girl playing with a spinning device made out of string and paper

© Ladybird Books Ltd MMVIII

Although the Ladybird book in its most widely recognised format didn’t appear until 1940, the Ladybird story actually started in the late 1800s when a Leicestershire bookshop owner and stationary supplier, Henry Wills, decided to go into printing almanacs and trade guides.

Long-term friend William Hepworth joined him in 1906. But after Wills died some time before the Great War, Hepworth decided to concentrate on printing ‘pure and healthy literature for children’, registering the trademark ladybird in 1915.

The first books appeared between 1915-38, and were printed on cheap, puffed up paper with titles such as Tails of Ships and Trains, Farmyard Panorama and Nursery Rhyme and ABC Book - although ‘A’ in those days stood for armoured train!

After the war, the iconic format of the Ladybird book as it is now known was launched with Bunnikin’s Picnic Party. This first series also saw Smoke and Fluff, Piggly Plays Truant, Downy Duckling and several others.

The books were an instant hit with children, and at half a crown, or 2’6 Net, were equally popular with parents who knew a good bargain when they saw it.

Thanks to a standardised 56-page format made from just one sheet of paper, Ladybird books were not expensive to produce – and for this reason, they kept the same price (and their popularity) for the next 29 years.

a book cover called the Ladybird Book of Things to Make with a painting of two children making things on a table

© Ladybird Books Ltd MMVIII

After the second-world-war, Ladybird expanded into educational non-fiction with the launch of the now globally recognised Key Words Reading Scheme. This was followed in the sixties by the Learnabout Series, which put Ladybird at the forefront of educational publishing with books consulted as much by adults as by children.

How it Works: The Motor Car (1965) was used as a reference book by the driving school division of Thames Valley Police, whilst How it Works: The Computer was a recommended text of both university lecturers and the Ministry of Defence.

Today, Ladybird are part of the Penguin Group and many classic titles are still in print thanks in part to their retro caché.

Ladybird books remain an integral part of more than one generation of childhood, and the exhibition at Havant museum offers parents the opportunity to introduce their own children to the world that brought us Peter and Jane, Shopping with Mother and Tootles the Taxi.

The exhibition will also contain first editions, examples of the made items from the Things to Make series (do you need reminding how to make a Spinning Whirr?), a reading corner and an opportunity for visitors of all ages to make or do items from the books in a designated activity area.

Five Fantastic Facts about Ladybird Books…

1.Understanding Maps (1967) was used to train up army recruits for the Falklands War.
2. The Charles and Diana wedding edition was produced in five days and sold one and a half million copies.
3. The Key Words Reading Scheme was introduced when research by William Murray showed that just 12 words make up 25% of our spoken vocabulary. The scheme is still used to teach children to read.
4. The Ladybird selling most consistently is the Ladybird ABC – although the title has had several revamps throughout the years. And A no longer stands for armoured train.
5. Wills and Hepworth registered the Ladybird logo in 1915 and became a limited company in 1924.

For more information about the Ladybird Books series see www.vintageladybird.com

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