First permanent exhibition dedicated to Ladybird Books to open

The show takes place at University of Reading’s Museum of Rural English Life, and will include 175 Ladybird covers.

© Ladybird Books

The first permanent exhibition dedicated to Ladybird Books artwork has opened at the University of Reading.

Located within the university’s Museum of Rural English Life (MERL), the gallery showcases pieces from an archive of more than 20,000 illustrations.

“The only space” dedicated to Ladybird book covers

Guy Baxter, head of archive services at University of Reading, says: “The redevelopment of MERL in 2016 threw up an opportunity to create a small on-site gallery of framed artworks. The Ladybird Archive, which had already featured several times in the museum, was a natural choice.”

Explaining the curatorial choices, he adds: “This is the only space dedicated to the subject so we needed to tell the Ladybird story.

“Concentrating on the history and book design in the first section of the gallery, we decided to hang artwork from some of the best-known series. We used this to introduce key points about the artistic, commercial and educational imperatives behind the books.”

175 books to be showcased

The exhibition will include a large printed sheet of Nursery Rhymes, which Baxter credits as being a key piece in the collection, as “it shows the ingenious design introduced by the publishers in 1940.”

The gallery will highlight the enormous variety of series published by Ladybird through the inclusion of a wall of books featuring 175 copies.

A rotating display showcasing the work of various artists including that of Allen W. Seaby, famous for British Birds and Their Nests, will be included.

Artwork from Climate Change, the latest addition to the Ladybird Expert Book series, which was co-authored by HRH The Prince of Wales, a patron of the MERL, will also be on show.

“The books were extremely well thought-out in terms of both text and design – they were good value and sold in vast numbers,” says Clare Plascow, collections officer at University of Reading. “During the 1950s-1970s – considered Ladybird’s ’Golden Age’ – these books introduced millions of children to reading and to a huge variety of subjects.”

She adds, “The parody books both reflected that nostalgia and reminded a now grown-up audience of their childhood favourites.”

The Ladybird Gallery display will run from 11 March – 2 July 2017 at MERL, University of Reading, Redlands Road, Reading RG1 5EX. Entry is free.

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