||This article possibly contains original research. (March 2012)|
|Parent company||Penguin Group|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
The company traces its origins to 1867, when Henry Wills opened a bookshop in Loughborough, 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 August 1914, Wills & Hepworth had published their first children's books, under the Ladybird imprint. From the start, 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.
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. 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. Many of the illustrations in this series were by Harry Wingfield and Martin Aitchison.
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 household 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 November 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 Children’s division will also be following suit.
The classic Ladybird book
The classic pocket-sized mini-hardback Ladybird book (four-and-a-half by seven inches/11.5 cm by 18 cm), Bunnykin's Picnic Party: a story in verse for children with illustrations in colour was first produced in 1940 for a series of rhyming stories. The full-colour illustrations by A[ngusine] J[eanne] Macgregor on each spread, to accompany the stories told in verse (by W. Perring) and the appeal of Bunnikin, Downy Duckling and other animal characters were an instant success. Early books had a standard 56-page format, chosen because a complete book could be printed on one large sheet of paper, which was then folded and cut to size without any waste. 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).
Later series included nature books (series 536, some illustrated by, for example, Charles Tunnicliffe and Allen W. Seaby) and a host of non-fiction books, including hobbies and interests, history (L du Garde Peach wrote very many of these) and travel.
Ladybird began publishing books in other formats from 1980. Most of the remaining titles in the classic format were withdrawn from print in 1999 with the closure of the factory in Loughborough which was specialised to this format.
With the demise of the traditional Ladybird publishing format has come an increased interest in collecting, often by adults who were children when Ladybird was in its heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s. A great many second-hand Ladybird books are available and it can be an inexpensive hobby. Predictably, most value is attached to clean first editions (including dust-covers for editions published until the early 1960s). However, the Ladybird imprints rarely make it clear whether or not a book is a first edition.
- Johnson, Lorraine; Alderson, Brian (2014). The Ladybird Story: children's books for everyone. London: British Library. p. 13. ISBN 0-7123-5728-9.
- "Ladybird Books to close Loughborough plant". 30 November 1998. Archived from the original on 27 September 2003. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
- Flood, Alison (20 November 2014). "Ladybird drops branding books ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’". theguardian.com. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- "Ladybird drops gender-specific children's book titles". BBC News. 21 November 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- "Company History". Ladybird Books. Retrieved 2014-12-10.
- "Ladybird Fly Away Home". Collectors' site dedicated to old Ladybird books
- "Nicole's website for collectors". Collectors' site featuring over 3000 images of Ladybird cover art
- "Easy on the Eye". Collectors' site
- "The Arran Alexander Collection". Vintage Ladybird Book Collectors' Information site
- "The Wee Web". Archived from the original on 26 December 2013. Retrieved 24 February 2014. A guide to Ladybird Books
- "Obituary: John Berry". The Daily Telegraph. London. 1 January 2010. Retrieved 24 February 2014.