Ladybird by Design

Read an exclusive extract from Ladybird by Design, by Lawrence Zeegen, a celebration of 100 years of words and pictures. 

The Elves and the Shoemaker

The Elves and the Shoemaker (1965).

For children who grew up in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s the Well-loved Tales are likely to be some of the most recognizable of all Ladybird books.

This series, 606d, was certainly very popular. Its original list comprised twenty-seven 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.

Cinderella coach

Cinderella (1964).

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 1 and 3, 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 Big Pancake (1972).

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.

Spread cinderella

Cinderella (1964).

The Enormous Turnip

The Enormous Turnip (1964).

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 COVERLadybird by Design, Lawrence Zeegen,(Penguin) is available now.

Ladybird by Design– a free exhibition celebrating and showcasing over 200 original illustrations from Ladybird books from the late 1950s to early 1970s – is open at the De La Warr Pavilion until 10th May 2015.

Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. My favourite 1970’s Ladybird book was The Princess and The Pea for the front illustration alone. All those mattresses! Would love to find a copy…wait I think my Dad has them in a shoebox, must dig them out.


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