Ladybird by Design

Professor Lawrence Zeegen On Ladybird Books as it Celebrates its 100th Birthday

For the past century, Ladybird books have taken children on a journey of discovery and enlightenment focusing on the world in which British Children have lived.

In celebration of the publishing house’s 100th birthday, London College of Communication’s illustration Professor and Dean, Lawrence Zeegen, has worked on the new book, Lady Bird by Design, to be released this March. The book has also inspired an exhibition at modernist icon for contemporary arts, De La Warr Pavilion, in Bexhill on Sea, England.

Professor Lawrence gave us his take on Ladybird through the years:

The Plus: Why are the Ladybird books an important part of British history?
Lawrence Zeegen:
Ladybird encapsulated occupations that now no longer exist in Great Britain, in its books. It charts a social history that is vital and has a particular stance or a particular point of view. The great thing is there was no sense that Ladybird was condescending. The books capture a moment in Britain’s history that is now no longer there.

TP: What do the Ladybird books tell us about Britain?
How a country portrays itself, how it sees its place in the world, to it’s own population, through children’s books, is really fascinating.
For example, People at Work concentrates on the occupations that were prevalent in the UK, during the 1960s. There are many that no longer exist. The miner is there, and the road makers. These builders, road makers that were building this new motorway through Great Britain through the 1960s, were seen as heroic figures.

TP: What was the process of working with Ladybird like?
They gave me access to their archive. I also spent a lot of time in the early part of the process, going to second hand bookshops and car boot sales and markets, to buy ladybird books. I probably bought about 400 Ladybird books over the period of writing the book.


TP: What impact do you feel that Ladybird books have had on British design and illustration over the last century?
For those of us (growing up in the 50s-60s) who have moved into design, gone to art school, become illustrators, I’m absolutely sure they had an impact at an early age. There was a sense through the illustrations of a perfect utopian Britain. The attention to detail in terms of typography, how the pages are lad out, production value, was always so fantastic

TP: What have you learnt that has surprised you through your research?
I was surprised by some of the personal stories of people involved in Ladybird, such as Douglas Keen, who was the editor / director. It was really one man’s vision that immeasurably altered Britain’s children. He was really committed to the education, across all classes for a reasonable sum of money. His books priced for 12.5 pence for 30 years. You can’t imagine that happening in the 21st century.

Ladybird by Design opens on 24th Jan – 10 May 2015 at De La Warr Pavilion Marina Bexhill on Sea East Sussex TN40 1DP.