Ladybird by Design

This Easter I went to the exhibition Ladybird by Design at the modernist, seaside De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, East Sussex, to catch a glimpse into another aspect of popular post-war education.

Through numerous original artworks and drawings from the books, the exhibition demonstrated the ways in which Ladybird sought to develop children’s knowledge about the world around them through simple, eye-catching words and images. Whereas other forms of post-war education I have looked at previously prioritised seeing and looking, Ladybird was all about reading as the ‘gateway to all future knowledge’, although there was still a strong visual appeal. The books’ subjects emphasised the ordinary, ranging from the natural world and its inhabitants (my personal favourite as a child was a guide to marine life at the seashore) to everyday activities such as shopping with mother, work occupations, the inner workings of machines such as aircraft and the application of science such as the use of nuclear power. The books also aimed to influence children in their own actions, promoting hobbies and activities such as experiments, crafts and card tricks through images of improbably neat, formally dressed children in jumpers, shirts and ties.

The most impressive thing about the exhibition was the number and scope of the subjects covered in the prolific range of Ladybird books. However, it was an exhibition whose interest laid mainly in its nostalgic value, providing ample opportunity for reminiscence by the three generations of my family in attendance.

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