Ladybird books are a bit of a British institution, and have been instrumental in teaching generation of kids how to read for many many years, and I am glad to report are still going strong today. The first Ladybird branded book were published way back in 1940 and was called Bunnikin’s Picnic Party, so I’m definitely too young to remember that one, but chances are it may have been one of the books my parents read as a child!
Probably the best remembered Ladybird books are the Peter and Jane or Topsy and Tim learn to read series. These were divided up into groups for teaching reading skills to different age groups, from those just starting until around 9 or 10 years of age. The stories they told followed the lives of Peter and Jane as they played, shopped with their mother and did many other normal day to day things. Each book finished by having a couple of pages listing all the “New Words Learnt This Book“, which was quite exciting when you were five years old!
There were also a plethora of stories both old and new, some written simply enough for a child to read themselves, whilst others might be a little more difficult and intended to read along with an adult. If you can think of an old classic fairytale, chances are there was a Ladybird book version of it. Some of the ones I remember include The Billy Goats Gruff, The Enormous Turnip, Cinderella and The Three Little Pigs. Indeed, some of these old books are now worth 20-30 UK pounds, which isn’t bad for a pocket money priced book.
The books were also always beautifully presented, being around the size of your average paperback novel except with far fewer pages and having a hard cover. Most of the books would be presented as a page of text with a full page illustration next to it. The words were printed in bold clear type of various sizes, depending on the reading level the book was aimed at, whilst the pictures were nearly always beautiful painted images, realistic and packed with detail. Take a look at the accompanying image, and you’ll see that every loaf of bread in the shop window looks good enough to eat, whilst the children cast shadows up the shop wall. They were almost photographic.
It wasn’t all stories though, as Ladybird also had a large number of factual and activity books too. One of my favourites were Things To Make And Do, which covered various craft activities such as making a wind up rubber band vehicle using a cotton real, a piece of candle and a matchstick, or a snake out of more cotton reals threaded on a string. Thinking about it this book probably wouldn’t be a lot of use these days, as I’m sure most households no longer have empty cotton reals lying about any more. I also adored the Tricks and Magic book, which as you might expect was packed with magical illusions such as card tricks and sticking several pins through your thumb without getting hurt (you made a false thumb out of a piece of fruit or veg, before you get too worried!).
It’s great to see that Ladybird books haven’t disappeared, and you can find out more about the current line up at the Ladybird website. Alternatively, if you would rather reminisce some more about the books you had as a child, then take a look at the Vintage Ladybird website instead. For further information still, there is also a book called Boys and Girls published recently which celebrates these wonderful books in more detail.