Saturday, 8 December 2007

Ladybird Christmas Quiz

This year's Ladybird Christmas Quiz is here:
If you've got a decent collection of Ladybird Books to consult (or don't mind having a few guesses) have a go.

Having completed the quiz, the first letter of every correct answer, when correctly arranged, will give the name of a Christmas character from a Ladybird Book. The first person to email me this word will join a small and select band of Christmas Quiz winners and win a Ladybird clip (worth about 10p!)

Good luck and Happy Christmas

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

A video history

To do something a bit different, I've made a video history of Ladybird Books in the 20th century - which you'll find here:

It's very homespun and you'll need to turn the volume right up to hear it, but I had fun trying to make it - if nothing else!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Martin Aitchison's artwork

I've just put the (almost) finishing touches to a brand new gallery of artwork by the wonderful Ladybird Book artist, Martin Aitchison. Martin, now 88, was one of the most prolific of Ladybird's artists during the 'golden years' of the 1960s and 70s. He has recently released for sale a large batch of pieces of original Ladybird Book artwork dating between the 60s and 90s and its these pictures you can see in the new-look gallery of his website. Take a look here. Great for window shopping if nothing else.

We've finally heard back from the Antiques Roadshow - and we haven't made it to the show. Too much material for one programme. Ah well. It was good fun.

Now, if I don't want to break a 6-year tradition I must set to work to prepare a Ladybird Christmas quiz. Something a bit different this year ... but what?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

A bit of history

I am delighted to have recently acquired the rather odd-looking book in the picture. It was owned (and probably made) by William Murray - author of the Key Word Reading schemes: Peter and Jane and 'Read with Me'.

It's a mock-up of a book which Murray used to plan out the text and layout of his books. Inside the text has been sellotaped into the blank pages and annotated in his writing. It seems to have be part of the planning for a re-working of the original Peter and Jane books - planned but never issued. It is called '1a' and features Peter, Jane and 'Mop' the dog. Presumably this plan was scrapped and was replaced with the Read with Me series (featuring Kate, Tom and Sam the dog).

But it is a fascinating insight into the process that created the books that have been so influential in the literacy of Britain in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Ladybird Times

I've have a very Ladybird focused few weeks. I've been corresponding with an ex-employee of Ladybird, the son of a Ladybird artist and with a relative of Willima Murray (author of the Key Word Reader scheme), met some of the current managerial team Ladybird team, met a family friend of another Ladybird artist, and had lunch with artist Martin Aitchison. The Ladybird-themed book 'Boys and Girls' mentions the address of my website, and this seems to have let to a big increase in visits to my site, which is great.

Martin Aitchison is soon going to be releasing a lot of new pieces of original Ladybird artwork and I've been trying to work on a picture gallery to display them. The only difficulty in all of this is that the day job and my family keep expecting me to have time for them ...

Still no word from the Antiques Roadshow as to whether we'll be featured - but if we are, it will be on December 23rd.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

'"Boys and Girls" - Ladybird Event in London

Last Monday (16th October) I headed down to Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road to the event organised by Ladybird to publicise their new book "Boys and Girls" - a look at Childhood in the 'golden years' of Ladybird.

I hadn't been inside Foyles for many years - not since it was a rather charmless, rambling book warehouse staffed by those handpicked for their cumugeonly qualities - when its biggest rival of the time "Dillons" used the slogan "Foyled again? Try Dillons"

Time passes and now Foyles is smart and bright. The Ladybird Book event took place on the second floor. After a glass of wine and a little mingle (there were about 30 people present) Stephanie Barton (Publishing Director) and Ronnie Fairweather(Creative Director) gave a very entertaining talk about Ladybird Books, their own associations with Ladybird and some anecdotes about the history and snippets from some books.

Behind them on the wall were some examples of mouth-watering original Ladybird artwork - including pieces from Eric Winter's 606d Rapunzel and Kenney's Tootles the Taxi. How many people have asked me why they have never been able to track down any original Eric Winter artwork! Well now we know. Recently Ladybird have uncovered a large quantity of the artwork, tucked away and long-forgotten - until now. Magical! I suppose I should think of 'Sleeping Beauty' at this point - but instead I think of Howard Carter holding up a lamp and peering for the first time into the Tomb of Tutankhamun - "Beautiful things!"

They also displayed two new publications which will be on sale soon - a collection of facsimilie reproduction Ladybird Classics in a presentation slip-case - one 'For Boys' and one 'For Girls'.

I really hadn't been sure what to expect out of the evening - but after a glass of wine, some home cakes (the recipes for which I'm sure were taken from a Ladybird cookbook) and some chats with a range of interesting people - it was all very pleasant and all very 'Ladybird'.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Libby and Ladybirds

First of all I should say that I like Libby Purves. I think she is always witty and usually wise and often find myself in agreement with her.

In the article she wrote recently in The Times recently, she makes some pretty fair points about Ladybird world and rosy-tinted nostalgia. But she overstates the case, tends to equate Ladybird Books too far (although not exclusively) with Peter and Jane and, for me, misses an important point.

She says: "But what killed Ladybirds for me 50 years ago, and still does today, is the denial – almost a violent denial – of imagination and mystery. Everything is clean-edged, tidy, nicely drawn, drenched with optimism. And any child knows that the world is not like that, not really: there are pictures in the clouds, omens in the pebbles, splendour in the grass, unaccountable nightmares in the neat white bed. Peter and Jane rebel and quarrel and try out rude words, and fear that one day they’ll look behind the newspaper at breakfast and Daddy will have gone."

Now I don't know exactly how old Libby Purves is but I do know that she wasn't a child when Peter and Jane books were used to teach the nation to read. She was an adult.

Probably many children hated learning to read with Peter and Jane and thought them dull and prim and irrelevant. But judging by the people who contact me via my website, most children had no problem with the 'clean-edged, tidy' world they inhabited. Perhaps they found the lack of storyline a bit tedious, or perhaps they were reluctant readers and were bashed over the head with the books (figuratively?) by over zealous teachers. But lots of people grew up with P&J, enjoyed the pictures, thought of them as acquaintances and felt a bit envious of their tidy, ordered world.

I was a child of the 1960s and grew up with the first version of P&J. I recognised that their world was neater than mine, but liked the books for it. I wanted my brother to be more like Peter. I wanted to look like Jane, with socks that stayed up, a white cotten frock and matching ribbon. Many adults want escapism from their films and literature - why should we assume that children want realism? If I, as a child, had been afraid that Daddy might walk out on me, I am more likely - not less - to embrace a world where that was unthinkable. If children want their own childhood reflected back at them, why have Enid Blyton's Famous Five books endured for so long?

Adults wrote in to Ladybird, complaining (fairly) of the P&J books' racial and gender stereotyping and asking for more realism. Ladybird duely revised the books just a few years after the first version - making Peter and Jane a bit scruffier, a bit more naturalistic.

As a child I hated these changes. Now scruffy, casual Peter and Jane looked like me and my brother. Their world was untidier, less perfect - and I wanted nothing to do with them or it. THIS was "what killed Ladybird" for me

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Vintage Ladybird

The Penguin Group are really beginning to revel in the increasing awareness of Ladybird Books as 'national treasures' - the nostalgia and recent social history. Combining this with the growth of social software sites, they've now launched a website called - which is less a site for collectors than a sort of hub or portal for a Ladybird prespective on other interactive sites. It has potential; it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

Friday, 7 September 2007

There's going to be a free event at Foyles bookshop in London on Monday 15th October at 6.30 pm.
It's to publicise Ladybird's new book 'Boys and Girls' which explores with nostalgia the childhood of the Ladybird Book generation.
You can reserve tickets here

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Fun stuff

I'm trying to set up a new area on my website that will contain a few 'coffee-break' activities and trivial stuff (as opposed to the deadly serious business of Ladybird Book collecting!).

Pretty dresses in well-remembered books seem to have had a powerful effect on the memories of a number of the people (women) who contact me. There often appears to be one particuar dress (or 'frock' - that seems like a good Ladybird word) which was the subject of childhood envy and longing. But which one?

Please take a look here and vote

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Newby Hall and The Independent

There was another Ladybird Book article in a national newspaper last week - this time The Independent on Saturday. Here's the link to it:

The article was written as a prelude to the opening of the exhibition of Martin Aitchison's original Ladybird Book artwork at Newby Hall in Yorkshire.

This exhibition is going on until September and has been a big success so far - the best selling pieces being (unsurprisingly) the original Peter and Jane illustrations from the 1960s.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Antiques Roadshow

Had some fun yesterday. I had been 'invited' down to the south coast, Bexhill on Sea, where they were filming an edition of the Antiques Roadshow on Modern Collectables. I'd been asked to bring a small sample of books as they weren't sure if it would be of any interest to the book expert Clive.

A fresh, blustery, showery day outside the De La Warr Pavillion on the sea front. Much milling and to-ing and fro-ing. People with walkie-talkies, security people, marshals and pavillion staff and, from 9.00 a steadily growing queue of people clutching bulging bags of items for perusal.

Because we'd been invited we didn't have to queue, but hung around in a separate area feeling like minor celebrities. Very minor. I had no guarantee that my books would be of enough interest to feature on the show. Other 'invitees' were a sure-thing, having been visited by their 'expert' in their homes. One of these 'A-list' invitees (the proud owner of some rather oddly shaped radiators) sounded very unimpressed by my proposed contribution to the show. "Ladybird Books? We have hundereds of those at home".

Clive appeared and we found a corner to show my wares. He looked busy and business-like and rather unimpressed. This was clearly not his area of expertise so I hurriedly told him why I thought certain items might be of interest. His face stayed blank - stoney even. "Too much detail" he muttered and stalked away.

A few moments later one of the BBC staff returned. "As I thought" she said, "Clive thinks they're of interest so we'll be filming you as soon as we get a slot". Well Clive sure has a funny way of showing it! I had been sure she was about to break rejection to me gently.

Almost immediately we were take to a table, dabbed down by a jolly make-up lady (my son refused to have anything put on him) and we were seated with Clive as he talked me through my items. The second the cameras were rolling he came over all jolly and twinkly and avuncular - but I suppose if you have to keep that pace up for 12 hours, you have to ration your goodwill and good humour rather.

Half-way through filming the sky grew suddenly grey and rain stated to fall. I was torn between the desire to keep things going and the urge of the collector to throw herself bodily across the books to protect them from the drops. By the end of the interview there were 4 people holding light-boards and umbrellas over us. It turns out these people weren't motivated by the desire to protect my First Editions but to finish the scene. Having filmed the piece they then had to focus on the hand-movements and shoot those separately. Trying to keep the continuity was like trying to re-place the ball after a foul shot in snooker. During the interview I had foolishly gone to move a book and Clive (in rather un-avuncular fashion) actually slapped my hand away! The director and cameraman were lynx-eyed on the position of the books, re-tracing our hand movements from one to another to enable close-ups.

And that was it. I was bundled away to make room for a collection of posh ceramic jewellery. The new series of AR (as we conoscenti call it) starts in September, at which time I'll find out when the "Tomorrows Antiques" episode will be shown.

Always assuming, of course, that we don't get edited out...

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Janet and John!

Thanks to Terry Wogan, I think, - there seems to have been a revival of interest in Janet and John books recently. People muddle up Janet and John (which were NOT Ladybird Books) with Peter and Jane - which, of course were. I am old enough to remember both. When I was learning to read, at the end of the 1960s, Peter and Jane must have been the new kids on the block because the scheme was first issued in 1964. I can't remember much about Janet and John - they didn't seem to do a right lot, and by the 1970 I don't remember seeing the books around at all - whilst Peter and Jane went on and on and on ... The books are still in print today, I think.

Why didn't J&J have the same appeal? Well they didn't have the wonderful full-page artwork of the Keyword reading series and most of the stories didn't feature the 2 children at all but re-told fairy tales. What's more the dialogue between Janet and John makes Peter and Jane look like sparkling conversationalists. And of course Janet and John were American, not British so the backdrops were that bit more remote.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Financial Times?

There was a piece on me and my Ladybird Book collecting in the FT at the weekend. Strange old world that of all newspapers, this one should contact me.

The piece is online if anyone's interested.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Updating site

I'm in the process of giving my Ladybird website a bit of a (much needed) update and revamp. I'm only about half-way through - but when I get around to uploading it (after the Bank Holiday weekend) you'll find rather an odd jumble of styles if you look through a number of pages. As it settles down, please let me know if anything is missing or if any links are broken.

Monday, 23 April 2007


I couldn't put it off any longer. Cinderella. If you're male, skip this posting. You won't get it. It's a girl thing.

This is the most popular Ladybird Book of all time, by miles, according to the long-standing poll on my website. There are thousands of different versions of Cinderella in the world. (Didn't someone once say, "There are only 7 stories in the world - and 6 of them are Cinderella?) And there were 4 different Ladybird Book versions of the story issued between the 1950s and the 1980s. But this one is the definitive oeuvre - this is the book that shaped a generation of girls' ideas of beauty and the posh frock. You see, Cinderella went to three different balls in this version and had three different dream dresses. It was like a magical precursor to "What Not To Wear". Yes, Cinderella gets the prince in the end - but she also gets a whole new wardrobe. Love and shopping - irresistable - like the "Rodeo Drive" scene on Pretty Woman (one of the 6 stories in the world).

Just about every British woman now aged between 35 and 50 will remember those three glorious frocks - and will have strong opinions about which was the dream dress - the subconscious yard-stick for the wedding-dress decades later. You were either a 'pink-silk-and-rosebuds girl', a 'blue-statin-and-net' girl or a 'white-gold-gauze' girl. Personally, I was pink-silk.

Here we meet Cinderella before the great make-over. How tastes change! This picture seemed all that was subtle, poignant and understated to my young eyes. I remember studying this picture and then asking my mother why the painting of the Mona Lisa was so famous and this picture wasn't. I remember my mother failed to give me an answer that I considered satisfactory.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Dewy-eyed nostalgia

Simmy's comment below got me digging out my old copies of The Book or Prayers, which is where I think the "yellow umbrella in April shower" picture comes from. Looking through the revised version of this and other prayer books is a striking reminder of how Ladybird images toughened up as the 1960s turned into the 1970s.

Gone is the soft-focus, pastel-hued world of sparkling kitchens and happy Doris-Day mothers greeting tweedy trilby-wearing Cary-Grant Daddies as they come home from the 9.00-5.00 in the office. The cherubic children flinging themseleves into parental arms before rushing off to help with the housework also disappear.

Did society really change so much at this point? Or did it just take Ladybird an awfully long time to get with the beat?

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

This was the first 'rare' book that I ever found. It was shortly after I started collecting Ladybird Books, about 7 years ago. I always checked out my local charity shops and, in those days, usually found an old LB or two in each shop. This time my husband and I divided forces and he came back with this book. It cost a lot of money - £3.99 and I really wasn't sure that it was a good purchase at the time. But it was!

I don't really remember Jonathan's Shopping Day from childhood. It was never published in large numbers and publication had ceased before I was born. So this book really signified a rite of passage. I bought it because it was a lovely, collectable old Ladybird book - not because I had fond memories of it. I was now A Collector.

This, of course, raises another issue.

If you find a book worth £100 but priced at £1 in a charity bookshop, should you:

a) snap it up and feel smug
b) buy it for £1 but put extra in the tin
c) let the shop know its true worth?

I have so far been spared this decision, since this is the only charity shop where I've found a very rare book and at the time I didn't know its true worth. But I suspect I would be somewhere between a) and b). I've spent a fortune on books in charity shops over the years.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Red Riding Hood and graffiti

This is the only book in my vast collection that I originally owned as a child and has stuck with me throughout. If you look closely you will see that Ms Riding Hood has a pair of glasses and a light beard. This is the work of my brother and, even today - 35 years later - just looking at it produces a primative urge in me to squeal and tell my mother.

This books is special to me too because I actually own the original artwork of the picture it shows. And this was the first Ladybird Book illustrated by Harry Wingfield, perhaps the most famous of all the Ladybird artists. In an interview a couple of years before he died he said that he put his heart and soul into this book, to be sure that he got regular work from Ladybird. It paid off; he became the favoured illustrator for the next couple of decades.

At the time my squealing must have paid off. My brother's additions to the artwork got him into a lot of trouble. Books were special in our house and to be treated with respect. I think times have changed rather, in this respect. It is very common to find vandalised, scribbled on copies of the more modern Ladybird Books, but the chances are that the very old ones will be in lovely condition. When they were first issued in 1940 they cost 2 shillings and 6d. This was war time and a time of paper-shortages - and a brand new book must have been a real treat to be treasured. The price of Ladybird Books stayed exactly the same for the next 30 years - and even today they only cost £2.00 - and their prizeworthiness has of course declined in step.

Would today's little sister squeal and make a fuss?

Tuesday, 6 February 2007


'Jane' of the Peter and Jane reading scheme books was my heroine. She is the same age as me - but was never like me as a child. She always looked so neat and trim, with here little white frock and yellow cardigan. Sometimes, like here, she scrubbed up nicely and wore a party frock. And she was always getting bought dolls - and they always looked crisp and new. Her dolls never had ratty, matted hair and bald patches from botched attempts at hairdressing. Her own hair never had sticky-up bits like mine. She never wore thick tights which wrinkled around her ankles.

Oh the magic of unwrapping Christmas presents at this age. This picture sums up my first recollection of envy!

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Some old favourites

Here are some of my favourites - to jog your memories.

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Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Memories of Ladybird Books

I receive so many messages to my website ( from people who had fond memories of Ladybird Books as children, who grew up and threw away their old books - and who now have children (or grandchildren) and want to get the books back to share with them.

My Mum was a teacher, so I grew up with Ladybird Books at home, at school, at Sunday School. They are tied into my childhood. I can remember memorising book 1A of Peter and Jane one night (which doesn't take much as there's only one word per page) and my teacher thought a miracle had taken place in that I had learnt to read overnight. I loved the Well Loved Tales series - but I also liked the History books. Queen Elizabeth was my heroine, but I had a soft spot for Oliver Cromwell.

Let me know if you have any memories of these books