Show celebrates Ladybird Books' centenary

LADYBIRD HISTORY: Illustrated by John Kenney, The Story of Captain Cook is one of Ladybird Books’ more than 600 titles. An exhibition to celebrate Ladybird’s 100 years of books has opened in London.

CREATOR of East Coast-as-parallel-universe graphic novel Hicksville, Dylan Horrocks is one of those of a Certain Age who recalls the artwork in the very English Ladybird books.

“I’m fascinated by these things. They regularly cross the line into the surreal,” he said.

The pocket-sized paintings on each facing page were designed to engage a child’s imagination. For those brought up on Ladybird books, the images were like looking through a window into a hyperreal world.

“When you view the artwork in the flesh, the quality of craftsmanship is amazing,” Lawrence Zeegen, Dean of Design at Ravensbourne College in London, told The Guardian.

“You can look at a Ladybird image, come back the next day, and the next, and still see something new. It’s the level of detail, the perfectly captured moment.”

Ladybird turned 100 last year. To mark the illustrated children’s book’s centenary, London’s House of Illustration is exhibiting a show of original Ladybird illustrations called Ladybird by Design.

Among Ladybird’s more than 600 titles is the 1958 publication of The Story of Captain Cook: An Adventure from History. Its format is consistent with the Ladybird layout: 56 pocket-sized pages, text on the left and a full-page colour illustration on the right. Ladybirds are books of 24 paintings.

John Kenney painted the pictures for The Story of Captain Cook. Employed by the publishing house salesman who transformed the Ladybird imprint, Douglas Keen, commercial artist Kenney served in the war and made impromptu drawings of the D-Day landings. He is said to have a great many of his Ladybird book history story paintings at the start of the imprint’s “golden years”.

The cover depicts Lieutenant James Cook claiming Australia for Britain. He is closer in physique to the Cook statue on Kaiti Hill than the stocky, doughty figure mounted on a bronze hemisphere at the Cut. He also appears to be blonde.

As in the illustration set off the East Coast, the sky is a generic blue. It is not the soft blue of English skies, nor is it the harsh blue of Pacific light, but it is close.

The key Ladybird artists were British men who had lived through the war and were in middle age, Zeegen said.

“They included war artists, portrait artists, comic illustrators. The country had been bombed to smithereens but there was optimism, a positivity about Britain’s future, which shows in the images.”

CREATOR of East Coast-as-parallel-universe graphic novel Hicksville, Dylan Horrocks is one of those of a Certain Age who recalls the artwork in the very English Ladybird books.

“I’m fascinated by these things. They regularly cross the line into the surreal,” he said.

The pocket-sized paintings on each facing page were designed to engage a child’s imagination. For those brought up on Ladybird books, the images were like looking through a window into a hyperreal world.

“When you view the artwork in the flesh, the quality of craftsmanship is amazing,” Lawrence Zeegen, Dean of Design at Ravensbourne College in London, told The Guardian.

“You can look at a Ladybird image, come back the next day, and the next, and still see something new. It’s the level of detail, the perfectly captured moment.”

Ladybird turned 100 last year. To mark the illustrated children’s book’s centenary, London’s House of Illustration is exhibiting a show of original Ladybird illustrations called Ladybird by Design.

Among Ladybird’s more than 600 titles is the 1958 publication of The Story of Captain Cook: An Adventure from History. Its format is consistent with the Ladybird layout: 56 pocket-sized pages, text on the left and a full-page colour illustration on the right. Ladybirds are books of 24 paintings.

John Kenney painted the pictures for The Story of Captain Cook. Employed by the publishing house salesman who transformed the Ladybird imprint, Douglas Keen, commercial artist Kenney served in the war and made impromptu drawings of the D-Day landings. He is said to have a great many of his Ladybird book history story paintings at the start of the imprint’s “golden years”.

The cover depicts Lieutenant James Cook claiming Australia for Britain. He is closer in physique to the Cook statue on Kaiti Hill than the stocky, doughty figure mounted on a bronze hemisphere at the Cut. He also appears to be blonde.

As in the illustration set off the East Coast, the sky is a generic blue. It is not the soft blue of English skies, nor is it the harsh blue of Pacific light, but it is close.

The key Ladybird artists were British men who had lived through the war and were in middle age, Zeegen said.

“They included war artists, portrait artists, comic illustrators. The country had been bombed to smithereens but there was optimism, a positivity about Britain’s future, which shows in the images.”

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