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Ladybird books: Exhibition of literary ‘time capsules’

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The Ladybird artwork has captivated generations of children

Artwork by illustrators from the classic Ladybird Books is to be explored in an exhibition.

The books, which started life in Loughborough about 100 years ago, have enthralled generations of children with classic tales and information texts.

Ladybird Book expert Helen Day said the “little time capsules” reflected the society that created them.

The Wonderful World of the Ladybird Book Artists is at Leicester’s New Walk Museum until 1 September.

The firm started publishing children’s books in 1914 but curator Ms Day said the picture books of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s had the greater impact on their youngsters’ consciousness.

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Men did nearly all of the jobs in the “People at Work” series

“One of the things that I find most fascinating about Ladybird books [is] the way they document so many social changes over the years,” she said.

“The stories and the artwork reflect the society that created them and that’s the context in which you have to enjoy them today.

“There isn’t one Ladybird world, instead there are a series of ever changing snapshots, documenting attitudes and assumptions over the decades.”

The strange things in Ladybird Books

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The 1964 illustration of “Mummy wrapping a present” (left) was updated in 1976

In 2019, some of the Ladybird illustrations and text might seem strange – or even offensive.

The firm was criticised for stereotyping, particularly over the role of women, which led to the books being updated in the 1970s.

One subtle example, above, shows a husband lending a hand wrapping a present in 1976, while his 1964 counterpart simply watches.

Other features of old Ladybird books shows the lack of diversity, despite the social changes in Britain following World War Two.

More here: Ladybird Books: The strange things we learned

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A golly was removed from a toyshop window in a later illustration

The Loughborough Ladybird offices and print works closed down in 1999, but Penguin Random House is still producing Ladybird books.

Publisher Michael Joseph has also used the original artwork in parody books for adults such as The Hangover or The Hipster.

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Getty Images

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Artwork from the Ladybird books took on a new lease of life in a modern pastiche series

Helen Day, who is holding a talk on 4 August, said no books would ever have the same impact on children’s consciousness as Ladybird titles did between the 1950s and 1970s.

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“Back then there wasn’t so much choice – there weren’t many other things battling for our attention,” she said.

“Today they’re not just books but websites, apps, films, cartoons, interactive toys and games…

“I suppose it’s inevitable that [books] will have less impact.”

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Leicester City Council

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Helen Day’s collection is on show at the gallery

Hundreds of original artworks by 14 artists including the creator of Tootles the Taxi, Leicestershire artist John Kenney, will be on show at the New Walk Museum from Saturday.

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