|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.
In October 2015, it was announced that Ladybird books would be publishing its first series of books for adults. The eight books, which parody the style and artwork of the company’s books for children, include the titles The Hangover, Mindfulness, Dating and The Hipster, and were written by television comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris. They will be published on 18 November 2015. The series follows a trend of other spoof Ladybird books including We go to the gallery by Miriam Elia who had previously been threatened with legal action by Penguin.
The classic Ladybird book
The classic pocket-sized mini-hardback Ladybird book measured roughly four-and-a-half by seven inches (11.5 cm by 18 cm). Early books used a standard 56-page format, chosen because a complete book could be printed on one large standard sheet of paper, a quad crown, 40 inches by 30 inches, 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).
The first book in the line, Bunnikin's Picnic Party: a story in verse for children with illustrations in colour, was produced in 1940. The book featured stories in verse written by W. Perring, accompanied by full-colour illustrations by A. J. (Angusine Jeanne) MacGregor. The appeal of Bunnikin, Downy Duckling and other animal characters made the book an instant success. 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 in 1980. Most of the remaining titles in the classic format were withdrawn from print in 1999, when the factory in Loughborough which specialised in this format closed.
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 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.
- "McNally and Murray (1968) claimed that while the average adult had a speaking vocabulary of about 20,000 words, an extremely large proportion of the language which people produced, and read, was made up of just 250 words. They then argued that if pupils were systematically taught these 250 words, they would be able to read the vast majority of any text they came across. The Ladybird Keywords reading scheme was devised to focus upon these keywords..." McNally, J. and Murray, W. (1968) Key Words to Literacy and the Teaching of Reading: a Basic Word List for Developing Early Reading and Writing Skills. London, Schoolmaster Publishing, cited in Janan, D., & Wray, D. (2012). Guidance on the principles of language accessibility in National Curriculum assessments: research background.
- Skelton, C. (1997). Revisiting gender issues in reading schemes. Education 3-13, 25(1), 37-43. Chicago
- Whiting, D. S. (1981). Sex Role Stereotyping and Ladybird Books. In Forum for the Discussion of New Trends in Education (Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 84-85). Chicago
- "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.
- Sally Wecksler. International Literary Market Place: ILMP 1994. R R Bowker. 1994. pp 443, 493 & 508. Google Books.
- ILMP: International Literary Market Place: 1999. Bowker. 1999. p 594. Google Books.
- "Spoof Ladybird books target adult market". BBC News Online. 12 October 2015. Retrieved 12 October 2015.
- "Company History". Ladybird Books. Retrieved 2015-05-06.
- Boys and Girls: A Ladybird book of childhood. London: Ladybird. 2007. ISBN 978-0723259718.
- Ladybird: A Cover Story: 500 iconic covers from the Ladybird archives. London: Ladybird. 2014. ISBN 978-0-71819-391-1.
- The Ladybird Story: Children's Books for Everyone. London: The British Library Publishing Division. 2014. ISBN 978-0712357289.
- Ladybird by Design. London: Ladybird. 2015. ISBN 978-0723293927.
- "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
- "Old Ladybird Books". Ladybird Book Collectors' and discussion 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.