My favourite Ladybird exhibition

Exhibits from the My Favourite Ladybird exhibitionLadybird books were first produced during the First World War by Wills & Hepworth, a jobbing printer. Initially, they were simply children's story books, but after the Second World War the firm started to produce educational books which increased sales enormously. Remarkably, the price stayed the same at 2s 6d from 1945 to 1971, a feat achieved by strict production rules and increasingly large print runs.

The University of Reading Special Collections holds about 700 boxes of original Ladybird artwork, proofs and some documentation from the 1940s to the 1990s, including examples of the work of notable artists such as C.F. Tunnicliffe, Rowland Hilder and Allen Seaby. The collection covers the wide range of subjects Ladybird published, ranging from What to Look for in Spring to Transformers: Laserbeak's Fury.

The collection also contains an incomplete set of over 1,000 Ladybird books, and this display features a selection of favourite titles from the collection, chosen by staff, volunteers and community group members associated with the University Library and the University Museums and Special Collections Service.

Can you spot your favourite? Let us know about your favourite Ladybird book(s) via Twitter @UniRdg_SpecColl

The exhibition will be on display at the University Library from 25 January until 5 April 2016.

Items on display

  • Bedtime rhymes, chosen by Audrey Daly, illustrated by James Hodgson. Loughborough : Ladybird Books Ltd, 1977. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--413/03

“This slightly surreal collection of illustrated poems was a favourite. My sister and I thought the poem ‘Daddy fell into the pond’ was particularly hilarious … the change in tone made it fun to read aloud!”

Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

  • Bob Bushtail's adventure, story and illustrations by A.J. MacGregor ; verses by E.M. Coghlin. Loughborough : Ladybird Books Ltd., 1941, 1980. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--401/06

“This early Ladybird story is one I remember from childhood. It's the story of a family of squirrels - Bob gets lost in the snow, and is found curled up fast asleep in a hollow tree. The picture of Bob in the tree looking sadly out at the snowflakes is one I remember well”.

Pat Hanby, Special Collections volunteer

  • Chicken Licken, retold by Vera Southgate; with illustrations by Robert Lumley. Loughborough : Ladybird Books Ltd., 1975. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--606D/18

"Chicken Licken was hit on the head by an acorn [and became] convinced that the sky was falling in and 'ran off to tell the King'. Rereading the story now, the characters he meets along the way flood back in my mind. Henny Penny, Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky ... - it is like being reacquainted with old friends. Thirty years on though, nothing prepared me for the terrible fate of Chicken Licken and his feathered friends upon meeting Foxy Loxy. Would stories written today for early years readers be that sinister I wonder? ... On reflection, perhaps that's why I became a vegetarian?!"

Phillippa Heath, UMASCS Audience Development Manager

  • The elves and the shoemaker, retold by Vera Southgate; with illustrations by Robert Lumley. Loughborough : Ladybird Books Ltd., 1965, 1973. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--606D/02 

“The most vivid Ladybird memory I have is of this book which was given to my daughter for her first birthday (she is now 36!) It was her favourite book and insisted on having it read every bedtime. She used to scream with laughter at the line 'the shoemaker was so distressed he did not know what to do'. I am not sure why she liked this line so much but it still brings a smile to her face when we remind her of it”.

Pamela Moody, member of Young People with Dementia (Berkshire West) Group.

  • Ginger's adventures : a story in verse for children with illustrations in colour, story and illustrations by A.J. MacGregor. Loughborough : Wills & Hepworth, 1941. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--401/03

“Ginger the puppy lives happily in the country playing with his friend Tommy on the farm next door, but sadly is sent to London to live with a little girl. He finds town life boring and after dragging the arm off a doll, runs away, back home to Tommy and the farm. Living on a farm, this one appealed to me as a child”.

Pat Hanby, Special Collections volunteer 

  • Julius Caesar and Roman Britain, by L. du Garde Peach; with illustrations by John Kenney. Loughborough : Wills & Hepworth, 1959, 1973. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--561/08

“The text and illustrations bring attention to the appearance and daily life of the pre-Roman inhabitants of the British Isles on which Julius Caesar in his own writings remarked: the bright colours of their clothing, the tools and jewellery that can be found nowadays in our museums, and the coracles, boats used on lakes and at sea, which are still found in and around Wales today”.

Professor Amy C. Smith, Curator, Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, University of Reading 

  • Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson, retold by John Grant, illustrated by Terry Gabbey. Loughborough : Ladybird Books Ltd., 1987. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--740/36

“I was around ten years old and there was a power cut at our house. We lit some candles and for whatever reason I decided to read Kidnapped by candlelight. In hindsight, it was suitably atmospheric for a historical adventure set in the highlands of Scotland … I liked the fact that the hero was called David as well!”

David Thomas, UMASCS Graduate Trainee Library Assistant 

  • The Ladybird book of London, by John Lewesdon, with illustrations by John Berry. Loughborough : Wills & Hepworth, 1965. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--618/01

“Ladybird books were ... an introduction to a world that held many possibilities. This book showed me a London that was full of history, and with the scenes of the Port of London and Heathrow the suggestion that it might be possible to go even further ... .”

Sue Seymour, Museum of English Rural Life volunteer

  • The princess and the pea, retold by Vera Southgate; with illustrations by Eric Winter. Loughborough : Wills & Hepworth, 1967. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--606D/09

“I was looking at the artwork for this book in our store, and was immediately transported back to a time when I wanted to be a ‘princess’! ... My brother and I were allowed to buy a Ladybird book as a treat when we visited the Botanic Gardens in Southport on holiday ... For years I truly believed that you could tell if a girl was a princess by putting something under her mattress ...”

Sharon Maxwell, UMASCS Archivist (Cataloguing & Projects)

  • Richard the Lionheart, written by L. du Garde Peach; illustrations by John Kenney. Loughborough : Wills & Hepworth, 1966. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--561/19

“I remember learning a lot from the ‘How to’ books. But it was the historical series that did it for me, and Richard the Lionheart – the ultimate ‘Adventure from History’ – stands above them all. The illustrator, J.T. Kenney, contributed to many of the Ladybird history titles, as well as having illustrated several of Rev W. Awdry’s ‘Railway Series’.

Guy Baxter, University Archivist 

  • Snow White and the seven dwarfs, retold for easy reading by Vera Southgate, with illustrations by Martin Aitchison. Loughborough : Ladybird Books, 1980. LADYBIRD COLLECTION—606D/20

“It’s been a privilege to use original Ladybird artworks from the University’s archive collection with my students. I loved the illustrations as a child, and I hung onto my childhood copy of this book for as long as possible. I bought a second-hand copy from the local Oxfam bookshop a few years ago, and was amazed by the accuracy of my memories of certain images”.

Dr Rhi Smith, Director of Museum Studies, University of Reading

  • The story of clothes and costumes, by Richard Bowood, with illustrations by Robert Ayton. Loughborough : Ladybird Books Ltd., 1964, 1978. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--601/07

“I was fascinated by history as a child, and the idea of seeing how people did such an everyday thing as getting dressed brought it all to life for me. The front and back inside covers had black and white line drawings of hats and shoes which I copied over and over again. I had a particular interest in clothes because my mother was a children's clothes designer, working (coincidentally) for the Ladybird brand.”

Dr Kim Shahabudin, Study Adviser, University of Reading Library 

  • The three billy-goats Gruff, retold by Vera Southgate ; with illustrations by Robert Lumley. Loughborough : Ladybird Books, 1974. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--606D/15

“I can’t say this is my favourite Ladybird book, but it is certainly one of the most memorable for me as my mother had to take it away because my sister and I found the picture of the troll too scary! ... I think it was the naturalistic style of the illustrations that made the troll look very real and terrifying!”

Fiona Melhuish, UMASCS Librarian

  • Two tales of Mervyn Mouse, by Sylvia Creche ; designed and illustrated by Roger Twinn. Loughborough : Ladybird Books Ltd., 1980. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--401/19

Mervyn the Mouse will remain dear to me forever. Our son loved this book as a small child, and my husband and I knew it word for word as we read it to him so many times! Poor Mervyn lost his tail to a combine harvester, but he remained resilient and brave, and in the second story aimed to swim the English Channel. A positive tale!”

Tina Norman, Museum of English Rural Life volunteer

  • What to look for in autumn, by E.L. Grant Watson ; with illustrations by C.F. Tunnicliffe. Loughborough : Ladybird Books, 1962, 1973. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--536/10

“My brother and I shared this book when we were children, and I later bought a copy when I was training to be a teacher and used it for many years in my Infant classroom; it was a great book to use when teaching about the seasons”.

Tina Norman, Museum of English Rural Life volunteer 

  • What to look for in winter, by E.L. Grant Watson ; with illustrations by C.F. Tunnicliffe. Loughborough : Wills & Hepworth, 1959, 1974. LADYBIRD COLLECTION--536/07

“The ‘What to look for …’ series were so much a part of my childhood that I can't always separate real memories of trips to the countryside around suburban Manchester from Tunnicliffe's beautifully vivid and detailed images. Spotting and identifying all the animals and plants helped foster my lifelong love of the natural world”.

Rose-Ann Movsovic, Museum of English Rural Life volunteer 

Further reading

  • Johnson, Lorraine and Brian Alderson. The Ladybird story : children's books for everyone. London : The British Library, 2014. Reference copy available in Special Collections open access reference collection: 070.50942-LAD/JOH
  • Zeegen, Lawrence. Ladybird by design. London : Ladybird Books, 2015. Reference copy available in Special Collections Reading Room Reference: REFERENCE--741.6420942-LAD/ZEE
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