Love of Ladybirds (books)

Visitors to this blog will know I’ve written in detail about growing up in the 1980s (under the title Fade to Gravy), publishing poems and stories and short non-fiction. I’ve written about PE at school, Scouts, school dinners, swimming lessons and detention among much more. I recently wrote a poem about comics and was working my way towards Ladybird books when what should come up? Shrewsbury Museum is holding an exhibition titled ‘The Wonderful World of the Ladybird Book Artists.’ The good news is that it runs until 5 June so you’ve plenty of time to go and Shrewsbury is a great place to visit anyway. More info here.

The exhibition – see the wall of titles below – is curated by Helen Day. She has a fantastic blog Ladybird Fly Away Home which is well worth visiting.

Step into this room and rekindle powerful memories.

Wall of Ladybirds

My first book was called ‘Rocky Finds a Friend.’ But shortly after my fourth birthday I was given my first Ladybird book, ‘Chicken Licken’ (see below) by Holmcroft Playgroup. It’s a tale that might be familiar to many of you and it doesn’t sugar the pill. The ending is brutal. But I loved it. I adored the vibrant colours and the simple, easy to follow language. I remember being upset by the ending, but then life has its disappointments and hardships and losses and Ladybird titles, especially folk tales, introduced us to this at a young age.

Chicken Licken

As I grew older I got hooked on the Ladybird history series. I’d spend pocket money on them and fetch them from the (sadly no longer existing) Bookland in Stafford town centre. I’d find a quiet place and read them through again and again, by the gas fire or, in summer, beneath the apple tree. The artwork was wonderful and the exhibition features the work and background of many of these artists, including John Kenney, Robert Lumley and others. I’ve long admired Charles Tunnicliffe’s work as he captures nature wonderfully, so was glad to see this former Anglesey artist too.

Joan in trouble with Dad

What really came back to me was the sense of being lost in these wonderful books. Yes, of course tastes and attitudes have changed, but the stories are brilliantly told. I still recall much of the detail, yet I’ve forgotten so much of the thousands of books I’ve read since. Joan of Arc seemed to be eating Heinz cream of tomato soup, as we did (above) but I remembered the legend of the sword of Martel, the duplicitous dauphin and her dreadful death by fire in the marketplace at Rouen.

William I

I remember William saw Halley’s Comet and that Harold’s brother was called Tostig and that it was thought a riot had broken out when William was cheered at his coronation. Years before IKEA, the Duke of Normandy brought his own ready to assemble wooden fort to the Kent coast. It’s not known if he built it the wrong way round (as he had the instructions upside down), had to dismantle it and start again though.

Horseshoe trick

Robert the Bruce was a canny fellow. The Ladybird book relates two interesting tales along with the battles and skirmishes: he had the horseshoes put on the other way around (above) so the English would think he’d gone the other way. He also crossed streams to throw his own bloodhound off the scent after the English captured it.

Chicken Licken caption

It all started here (above). I love Ladybird books and passed them onto my sons. They were beautifully illustrated but also captured the complex lives of major historical figures in around 25 pages, managing to be thrilling, quirky and entertaining too.

If you can get along to the exhibition it’s a great place to rekindle those memories.

What was your first Ladybird book? What’s your favourite? Do you still have them?

2 thoughts on “Love of Ladybirds (books)

  1. Funny to see the date 1979 in your book. (I was 27 in 1979)
    I was an avid Ladybird reader, but at least 20 years before that, if not more. I still have a couple of them in a box somewhere.
    Cheers, Pete.

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