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The Ladybird Books Story


Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. Ladybird books traces its origins to 1867,
when Henry Wills opened a bookshop in Loughborough in Leicestershire. Within a decade he progressed to printing
and publishing guidebooks and street directories. He was joined by William Hepworth in 1904,
and the company traded as Wills & Hepworth. By 1914, Wills & Hepworth had published their
first children’s books, under the Ladybird imprint. From the beginning, the company was identified
by a ladybird logo, at first with open wings, but eventually changed to the more familiar
closed-wing ladybird in the late 1950s. The ladybird logo has since undergone several
redesigns, the latest of which was launched in 2006. The pocket-sized hardback Ladybird measured
roughly 4½” x 7″ (11.5cm x 18cm). Early books used a standard 56-page format,
chosen because a complete book could be printed on one large standard sheet of paper, a quad
crown, 40 inches by 30 inches, which was then folded and cut to size without waste paper. It was an economical way of producing books,
enabling the books to be retailed at a low price which, for almost thirty years, remained
at two shillings and sixpence (12.5p). The first book in the line, Bunnikin’s Picnic
Party: a story in verse for children with illustrations in colour, was produced in 1940. The book featured stories in verse, accompanied
by full-colour illustrations. The appeal of Bunnikin, Downy Duckling and other
animal characters made the book an instant success. Later series included nature books and a host
of non-fiction books, including hobbies and interests, history and travel. Wills & Hepworth began trading as Ladybird
Books in 1971 as a direct result of the brand recognition that their imprint had achieved
in Britain. In the 1960s and 1970s the company’s Key Words
Reading Scheme (launched in 1964) was heavily used by British primary schools, using a reduced
vocabulary to help children learn to read. Thousands of children, myself included, grew
up on the “Peter and Jane” books. This series of 36 small-format hardback books
presented stereotyped models of British family life – the innocence of Peter and Jane at
play, Mum the housewife, and Dad the breadwinner. In the 1960s, Ladybird produced the Learnabout
series of non-fiction (informational) books, some of which were used by adults as well
as children. An independent company for much of its life,
Ladybird Books became part of the Pearson Group in 1972. However, falling demand in the late 1990s
led Pearson to fully merge Ladybird into its Penguin Books subsidiary in 1998, joining
other established names in British children’s books such as Puffin Books, Dorling Kindersley,
and Frederick Warne. The Ladybird offices and printing factory
in Loughborough closed the same year, and much of the company’s archive of historic
artwork was transferred to public collections. In 2014, Ladybird signed up to the Let Books
Be Books campaign and announced that it was “committed” to avoiding labelling books as
“for girls” or “for boys” and would be removing such gender labelling in reprinted copies. The publisher added: “Out of literally hundreds
of titles currently in print, we actually only have six titles with this kind of titling”. Its parent company, Penguin Random House followed
suit. In 2015, it was announced that Ladybird books
would be publishing its first series of books for adults. The eight books, which parody the style and
artwork of the company’s books for children, include the titles The Hangover, Mindfulness,
Dating and The Hipster, and were written by television comedy writers Jason Hazeley and
Joel Morris. The series follows a trend of other spoof
Ladybird books including We Go to the Gallery by Miriam Elia who had previously been threatened
with legal action by Penguin. In 2016, Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon
& Schuster, announced that they would publish American adaptations of the Ladybird Books
for Grown-ups, called The Fireside Grown-Up Guides. Ladybird Expert was launched in 2017 following
the success of Ladybird for Grown-Ups. The books in this series are not parodies
but instead use the classic format to serve as clear introductions to a wide variety of
subjects, generally in the fields of science and history. The first book published and the inspiration
for the series is Climate Change by the Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Emily Shuckburgh. Four more titles were released that same year. The line was expanded with fifteen further
books in 2018 and more titles were published in 2019. A big thank you to all my Patrons for supporting
me. To get early advert-free access to new videos,
or to appear in the credits please consider supporting me using the Patreon link below
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video!

Jerry Heath

15 Comments

  1. The Key Learning books were used in primary schools well into the 1980’s before being replaced with Keystage reading books by another company

  2. I admire your research & you should do one to celebrate Janet & John series. Keep up the good work 👍

  3. I'm 52 and this video has brought a warm fuzzy feeling all over. I vividly remember reading these books in school at a young age, the cover of the book 1a with Peter and Jane in the teepee makes me remember a very innocent time in my life. great vid, thank you for the reminder.

  4. Ah loved the Ladybird books Rocks and minerals was my favorite I think. Loved the pictures.
    Nice one thank you.

  5. Peter and Jane. A real blast from the past. I remember seeing the whole bookshelf/display of Ladybird books at the local Woolworths at the top of the hill from us most weekends.

  6. The 'How to make a transistor radio' Ladybird book set me on my career path as an electronics engineer.

  7. The PersonBird's Guide to Global Warming. Oi vey! Where did childhood go?

  8. I remember getting a couple of huge childrens ensy..encik..learning books from the 40s and 50s, loved the artwork, loved these too. I think my mum has a school photo of me in front of the library bookshelf full of books like this.

  9. The equivalent for children here in The States was "Little Golden Books".

  10. Yeah I was at Infant school with Peter & Jane ( and some older books called Janet & John). My personal favourite Ladybird book was the one about Dinosaurs.

  11. Many Ladybird books were and are, FANTASTIC!
    I have many for my children now but…
    The 'Peter and Jane' reading series was truly APPALLING!
    Must be just about the most turgid, monotonous method of learning ever devised.

  12. I absolutely hate Peter ans Jane books when i was at school. I did have a good few of their more interesting books, my Favoutrites was Garden Birds and a Camping Book.

  13. The new spoof ones are genius for those of us reared on Ladybirds.

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