Read an exclusive extract from Ladybird by Design, a celebration of 100 years of words and pictures
For children who grew up in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s the Well-loved Tales are likely to be some of the most recognisable of all Ladybird books.
This series, 606d, was certainly very popular. Its original list comprised 27 traditional fairy tales published between 1964 and 1974. There were also another five titles added up to 1980 and further reprints in subsequent years, some with different covers and illustrations.
The popularity of this series was in the distinctive retelling of traditional fairy stories and the beauty of the accompanying illustrations, in the main created by Eric Winter and Robert Lumley.
Vera Southgate, an English teacher, retold the first twenty-seven stories of the series with the remaining five books authored by Vernon Mills, Lynne Bradbury, Audrey Daly and Enid C. King.
Well-loved Tales today remains one of the most collectible of the Ladybird series. The first title, Cinderella – the only title in the series to be issued with a dust jacket and not a coloured board cover – is particularly sought after.
Educating parents and teachers as well as young readers was important to Ladybird. The titles in series 606d were listed on the back cover of each book and given a grade between one and three, which signified the level of reading difficulty for children.
Classified as part of the Easy-Reading series, the message to parents on the inside cover was as much a sales pitch as it was an encouragement to read with and to their children.
'This is one of the stories that children have always loved,' states one book's text. 'The younger ones will enjoy seeing the full-colour illustrations and having the story read to them. Older children who need reading practice will be encouraged by the clear type and relatively simple text,' it continues.
The illustrations were engaging and realistic – Puss stands tall and proud in a supremely convincing manner in Eric Winter's illustrations for Puss in Boots, first published in 1967, whilst Robert Lumley's quirky pancake in The Big Pancake, published in 1972, escapes the pan and rolls down hills chased by a mother and her chain of seven hungry sons.
The fairy tales, recounted by Southgate in charming prose throughout the series, are illustrated sympathetically, with the moral of the story or happy ending of each tale perfectly encapsulated in each closing image.
From Eric Winter's Rumpelstiltskin and his portrait of Dick Whittington as the Lord Mayor of London to Robert Lumley's image of Foxy Loxy and family resting comfortably after having devoured Chicken Licken and friends, the illustrations both complement and extend the story for the young reader, bringing each tale to life.
The illustrated images for Well-loved Tales were to become the de facto visual interpretation of traditional fairy tales – a balance of believable realism with a twist of the macabre and surreal. In essence, it was a perfect balance for the unbridled imagination of Ladybird's junior readers (and their parents too, of course).
Ladybird By Design is a fascinating look at the social and design history of the well-known publisher Ladybird Books, released to celebrate 100 years since the familiar ladybird was first registered as a logo in 1915.
Ladybird by Design charts the rise of the company that was initially known as Wills & Hepworth, from its origin as a small Loughborough printer to its growth into a global publisher beloved by millions of children, teachers and parents. It delves into the stories behind the beautiful art and design of the iconic mini hardback books that have adorned children's bookshelves for generations, and explores the career of Editorial Director Douglas Keen, who commissioned many of the books from the 1950s to the 70s, as well as those of the artists who brought them to life.
In addition to a range of classic covers and images from books, Ladybird By Design also contains a selection of rare photographs and artwork, and includes sections on favourite series such as Well-Loved Tales, Nature, How it Works, Key Words, Junior Science, Hobbies and Interests, People at Work and Adventures from History, through to information on the exciting books still being published by Ladybird today.
Written by Professor Lawrence Zeegen, a well-known illustrator and Dean of the School Design at the London College of Communication.
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