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Ladybird books under the microscope at MERL

(C) Ladybird Books Ltd MMXII

The exhibition focuses on an image from 'What to Look for in Autumn'

'We will be exploring how the picture was reproduced, not only in subsequent editions of the book, but also in multiple copies of the same edition.' Ollie Douglas, MERL curator

Remember Ladybird books? A new exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) gives a rare glimpse of original artwork from one of the hidden gems among the University's special collections.

The Ladybird Archive, held by the Special Collections Services, contains thousands of individual items, including original artwork and cover designs from hundreds of Ladybird books - perhaps the most iconic series of books for children published in the 20th century.

Which is your favourite? See some of the highlights of the archive >>>

A new exhibition

Now MERL is hosting a new exhibition that looks at just one of these classic pieces of artwork - exploring not just the artistic, historical and social relevance of the work, but exploring what individual copies of the books tell us about their owners, and about how we can begin to explore the history and impact of this image through artefacts, other children's books, and by simply looking at and thinking about it.

‘What to Look For? Ladybird, Tunnicliffe, and the hunt for meaning' explores different ways of interpreting a single image from the Ladybird book ‘What to Look For in Autumn', written by E. L. Grant Watson and first published in 1960. The image is a watercolour of a rural scene by celebrated artist Charles Tunnicliffe.

Ollie Douglas, who is curating the exhibition, said: "The University is lucky enough to hold more than 700 boxes of original artwork from these iconic children's books in the Ladybird Archive - but in this exhibition we're focusing on just one image.

"We will be exploring how the picture was reproduced, not only in subsequent editions of the book, but also in multiple copies of the same edition. We'll be looking at the things that it depicts and exploring the words that were written to run alongside it.

"Not only does every book tells its own story - some battered and dog-eared, others marked with inscriptions or scribbles - but every image and page within a book can tell us different things. This exhibition is all about the many different ways that there can be of ‘reading' books.

"We hope visitors to the exhibition will be left not only with a greater understanding about Ladybird books, the history of their production and publication, and their depictions of rural life, but thinking about what books as objects can say about us."

Neil Cox, co-curator, said: "As part of the exhibition, academics from many departments at the University have written about how they view one of the pages from What to Look for in Autumn. It is fascinating to see how different these approaches to the image can be."

View photos from the exhibition launch >>>

Find out more about visiting MERL on the London Road campus >>>

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