Lovely Ladybird books exhibition in St Albans

Lovely Ladybird books exhibition in St Albans

I thoroughly recommend the current exhibition in the St Albans museum about the design and illustration of Ladybird books called The Wonderful World of the Ladybird Artists. It is free and runs until September.

There is lots of original artwork on display, a real focus on the people behind the illustrations, and lots of vintage copies of the books knocking about so you can handle them and refresh your memory.

The big wall of Ladybird books in St Albans.

One weird thing is that they were so ubiquitous in my childhood that, faced with a wall of old Ladybird books, it is easy to go “Oh, I had that one, and that one, and that one” but then on reflection maybe I didn’t. Maybe they were just in the school library or classroom, or I’ve seen the covers so many times in internet memes and articles now that I feel like I had them, even if I am just familiar with them. Memory is a funny old game.

Over the years the Guardian has done more than one gallery of the best illustrations. The picture desk assembled this one, and Sophy Henn nominated hers in 2015.

While I was there I picked up the Ladybird story of newspapers to see if I knew anything about my industry.

The Ladybird book of newspapers.

It was, of course, mostly white men smoking in the office, and had a very upbeat intro, writing:

The daily newspaper is so much a part of our lives that we seldom stop to consider how many people and how much cooperation and technical skills are necessary to bring us the latest news and comment so promptly.

The frontpiece of the Ladybird book of newspapers.

I didn’t feel that my role – mostly hunched up over a laptop on the sofa at home in my PJs with a dog trying to interfere with my work – was accurately represented though.

Oh, and of course I found the one Doctor Who reference in the display. I bet Ladybird never cleared the rights to have a Dalek in this toyshop from the notoriously controlling Terry Nation and estate.

A Ladybird illustration of a toyshop featuring a Dalek, Basil Brush, Steve Austin and others.

The collection in the exhibition belongs to Helen Day, whose Instagram is an absolute treasure trove of Ladybird illustrations.

Still, perhaps the most interesting personal thing about the day was the way that it bookended my own experiences of reading. Obviously I would have read the Ladybird books growing up, but now I discovered it was time to get my eyes tested again, as even with my glasses on, I couldn’t read some of the exhibition captions LOL.