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Royal Mail celebrates 'golden age' of Ladybird books

New stamps based on the popular children's books were launched on Thursday.

Ladybird: First range of children's books launched in 1914.
Ladybird: First range of children's books launched in 1914. Royal Mail

Royal Mail has revealed a new stamp collection featuring images from a well loved children's book.

The stamps based on the popular Ladybird books, which were launched on Thursday, are bound to bring about a strong sense of nostalgia for many.

The company, which can be traced back 150 years, published its first books for children at the start of the First World War.

William Hepworth, the firm's owner, launched the first range of children's books in 1914 and a year later the name 'Ladybird' was registered.

A product of printing company Wills & Hepworth, Ladybird books were printed in Loughborough, Leicestershire for almost 85 years until the print works closed in 1999.

But it is the 1950s and 60s that are considered the "golden age" of Ladybird books that has built up an impressive library of 650 titles and been praised for helping generations of children to read.

For many people over the age of 30, the mere mention of Ladybird books is sure to evoke strong childhood memories.

Titles from the Key Words Reading Scheme and Early Tales and Rhymes are included in the stamp collection, as are popular books from: Adventures from History; Well-loved Tales; Hobbies and How it Works; People at Work; Nature and Conservation and Achievements.

The selection of the covers for the stamps represents the work of some of the best known artists, like John Kenney (Adventures from History series) and Eric Winter (Cinderella).

Royal Mail spokesman Philip Parker said: "Reading Ladybird Books became something of a rite of passage for children from the 1950s onwards, and our new stamps celebrate the iconic series that generations have loved and grown up with."

Ladybird Books A-Z

People at work: Titles include The Nurse, The Postman and The Shipbuilders.
People at work: Titles include The Nurse, The Postman and The Shipbuilders. Royal Mail

A - Martin Aitchison

Martin Aitchison illustrated around 100 Ladybird books over a period of almost 30 years. Along with Harry Wingfield, he is probably best remembered as one of the main original illustrators of the Key Words Reading Scheme - the 'Peter and Jane' books that taught so many children to read in the 1960s and 1970s. Other series to feature his work include 'Great Artists' and 'The Story of the Arts'.

B - Bunnikin's Picnic Party

The brand name 'Ladybird' was registered in 1915, but the printer Wills & Hepworth Limited did not make books in the size and format most associated with Ladybird until Bunnikin's Picnic Party (1940). The first title in the 'Animal Stories Told in Verse' series was originally written and illustrated by AJ MacGregor; the rhyme was later rewritten by W Perring.

C - Cinderella

Ladybird produced several editions of the Cinderella story over the decades, but the 1964 version beautifully illustrated by Eric Winter, in which Cinderella goes to three balls and wears three striking ball gowns, has proved the most popular. The first edition was the only title in the 'Well-loved Tales' series to be issued with a dust jacket and printed cover board rather than a colour cover board.

Wildlife: Animal books have always proved popular with children.
Wildlife: Animal books have always proved popular with children. Royal Mail

D - Dust jacket

Between 1940 and 1965, all Ladybird books were published with a colourful paper dust jacket (or 'dust wrapper'). Most had the price printed on the inside front flap and a list of other titles in the series noted on the inside rear flap. After 1965, dust jackets were replaced by pictorial boards. Today, collectors look out for paper wrappers as an indication of a book's age and condition.

F - Jayne Fisher

In the 1970s Ladybird was looking for new ideas. 'The Garden Gang' books, a series featuring characters based on fruit and vegetables, was written and illustrated (in felt-tip pen) by Jayne Fisher, who was just nine years old when Penelope Strawberry and Roger Radish was first published in 1979. Though different in style from Ladybird's usual fare, the books proved very popular.

H - 'How it works'

Today Ladybird is often associated with early reading and fairy tales, but in fact the company also produced hundreds of non-fiction titles. Containing informative and detailed illustrations, these books now form a record of key changes in technology over the latter half of the 20th century. Including titles such as The Computer, the 'How it works' series was published between 1965 and 1972.

Siblings: Jane and her brother Peter were the main characters.
Siblings: Jane and her brother Peter were the main characters. Royal Mail

J - Jane

Jane and her brother Peter were the main characters of the Key Words Reading Scheme, which spanned 36 titles over three series. The children first appeared in Play with us (1a), a 1964 book illustrated by Harry Wingfield. In the 1960s, blonde-haired Jane was usually dressed in a pristine white frock with a yellow cardigan, while dark-haired Peter wore shorts, a white shirt and a red jumper.

N - Nature

The first Ladybird books to be deliberately aimed at the schools' market were on a topic close to the heart of the then commissioning editor, Douglas Keen: British birds. Based on a prototype book created by Keen himself, British Birds and Their Nests (1953) was the first title in the 'Nature' series. An instant success, many more nature titles followed on topics such as trees, insects and geology.

O - Our Land in the Making

Finely illustrated by Ronald Lampitt, this bold venture is a two-volume work on British historical geography. Written by Richard Bowood and first published in 1966, it tells the story of natural and human impacts on the British landscape from earliest history to the mid-1960s. Our Land in the Making was a feature of school bookshelves for the next two decades.

History: Historical figures also featured heavily.
History: Historical figures also featured heavily. Royal Mail

P - People at Work

In his almost photographic illustrations for this series, former war artist John Berry depicted people (mostly men) at work between 1962 and 1973. The first book in the 'People at Work' series was The Fireman, in which a fireman's duties were revealed by authors Vera Southgate and J Havenhand. Other titles included The Nurse (1963), The Postman (1965) and The Shipbuilders (1969).

Q - Queens

With its focus on kings and leaders such as King Alfred the Great and William the Conqueror (both published in 1956), the 'Adventures from History' series was certainly dominated by men's lives, but British queens also featured. Writer Lawrence du Garde Peach's informative prose exuded admiration for The First Queen Elizabeth in 1958, while Queen Victoria was the subject of a 1976 book.

R - Religion

The Christian Sunday School market was an important one for Wills & Hepworth, and from 1952 onwards they published numerous books of Bible stories, beginning with The Child of the Temple. In addition to stories, there were also books designed to give background and context to the topic, such as The History of Our Bible and Animals, Birds and Plants of the Bible in series 649.

School: Ladybird targeted the education market.
School: Ladybird targeted the education market. Royal Mail

S - School

Ladybird's period of greatest success stems directly from the decision to target the education market and to provide good-quality, robust and colourful books that teachers would trust. Douglas Keen spoke to many teachers across the UK to garner opinion on children's interests, and then went on to devise the many series that would encourage children to enjoy learning through reading.

T - Charles Tunnicliffe

Between 1959 and 1961, the well-respected and renowned painter of British wildlife Charles Tunnicliffe worked closely with writer EL Grant Watson to produce the 'What to Look for' seasons books, beginning with What to Look for in Winter. Tunnicliffe's first Ladybird commission was for The Farm, a 1958 'Learning to Read' book that visualised life on a farm through Tunnicliffe's art.

V - Vehicles

Throughout Ladybird's long publishing history, its books have featured vehicles of all kinds. As well as the motor car, there have been titles on commercial vehicles such as vans and lorries, aircraft, the hovercraft, trains, rockets and various seafaring vessels. Books were regularly revised and new editions published as technology evolved and the content of the books became quickly out of date.

Vehicles: New editions have been published as technology evolved.
Vehicles: New editions have been published as technology evolved. Royal Mail

X - "X hardly ever . . .

... comes first in a word", and as a result it always presented problems for the authors or editors of books focusing on the alphabet that Ladybird published over the decades. The above quote appears in Uncle Mac's Ladybird ABC Book (1950). More often than not, the books would gloss over the X entry altogether and skip from 'W' to 'Y', as in the first Ladybird Picture Dictionary (1965).

Y - Your Body

Your Body was a 1967 title in Ladybird's 'Nature' series that introduced children to the wonders of the human body. Written by David Scott Daniell and featuring illustrations and anatomical diagrams by Robert Ayrton, the book opened with the human skeleton, showing how the function of joints enabled the body to move. Other topics included skin, nerves, sight, blood, muscles and hearing.

Z - The Zoo

Animal books have always been popular with children and Ladybird has keenly supported this interest. Titles for pre-school children have included The Zoo (published in 1960 in the 'Learning to Read' series and strikingly illustrated by Barry Driscoll) and Talkabout Animals (1973). Older children could read the 'Animals of the World' series, featuring the detailed art of John Leigh-Pemberton.

The stamps can be brought from www.royalmail.com/ladybirdbooks and from 7,000 Post Office branches across the UK.

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