Childhood

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This copy of the Autumn volume was acquired by an academic interested in the study of children’s literature. This also just happens to be an academic who has kindly contributed ideas and content towards the main banners in the exhibition itself. Dr Sue Walsh is a colleague of my co-curator Neil Cocks and works alongside him within CIRCL (Centre for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture and Media). With this institutional affiliation in mind it it easy to see why she might have been interested in acquiring a copy of this particular book.

Sue Walsh's copy of the 'Autumn' book

Sue Walsh’s copy of ‘What to Look For in Autumn’, complete with the standard dust jacket. It appears much the same as all the other first editions on display.

It appears at first glance to be much like the other first editions that we have borrowed for the exhibition. It has its dust jacket and is in near pristine condition. The price is, of course, the standard 2’6 for which Ladybird became known.

Price on the dust jacket of Sue Walsh's copy.

The standard price of 2’6, as printed on the dust jacket of Sue Walsh’s copy.

However, as with other individual copies, more careful visual inspection reveals subtle differences in the way this particular book has been treated by its previous owners. There are scribbles that evidence a perhaps less caring owner, most likely a child!

Scribbles on the title page of Sue Walsh's copy.

Scribbles on the title page of Sue Walsh’s copy of the ‘Autumn’ book, surrounding the iconic Ladybird logo.

Perhaps more interesting still is the later addition of an alternate price, no doubt by an enthusiastic second hand book seller. The price of £6.50 has been written inside, indicating a significant increase on its original price of 2/6. Whatever Sue herself paid for the book, this is evidence enough that the financial value of these volumes has increased markedly and that they are nolonger the economical literature of the people that they once were. Instead, they are the preserve of book collectors, enthusiasts, and specialists.

Price annotation on Sue Walsh's copy of the 'Autumn' book.

A later price annotation of £6.50 adorns the inside of Sue Walsh’s copy of the ‘Autumn’ book.

Sue herself acquired her copy with the possibility of using it for teaching or research purposes at some point in the future. I hope that involvement in this project has enthused her to make active use of this copy in the classroom context. Thanks to Sue for the generous loan of this volume and thanks also for providing ideas and content for the following exhibition banner.

Exhibition banner based on content and ideas provided by Sue Walsh.

This exhibition banner explores ideas connected with the notion of an animal and of absence and is based on content provided by Sue Walsh.

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As the exhibition opening draws closer, our exploration of the biographies of individual copies of books from the What to Look For series continues. Although the copy pictured below is not a first edition but a later version and is arguably far less ‘collectible’ by traditioanl standards, I think there is little chance that this particular volume will ever reach the secondhand book market. It will certainly not do so in the lifetime of its current owner, for whom it is of special importance.

Copy of 'Autumn' book lent by Kelly Borlase-Hendry and her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry

This later edition of the ‘Autumn’ book has been lent by Kelly Borlase-Hendry and her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry, who has had it since he was a child.

Indeed, the book has come to us via Kelly Borlase-Hendry who works as a Student Financial Support Team Leader within the University of Reading. It belongs to her husband Piran Borlase-Hendry who remembers the What to Look For series being his favourite books when he was younger, so much so that they were the only volumes that he kept from his childhood.

This narrative doesn’t differ enormously from the other familial stories I have already recounted. Someone owned the book as a child and liked it enough to hang onto it into adulthood. However, there is a further twist to this particular example. Piran wanted me to point out that not only that he is a graduate of Rural Resource Management here at the University of Reading (and therefore has his own institutional connection) but that he is now working as an Ecologist, a career trajectory that has much to do with his love of these books in his youth. Indeed, as his wife Kelly told me, Piran thinks that ‘his love of the countryside stems from these books.’

For me at least and for our purposes in this part of the exhibition and wider project, this a tremdously powerful idea. It is one thing for us to be asking quite simply how people respond to an image from the Autumn volume or what they think of the book and the text now but to know it had such a profound impact on someone’s life, and that these four small books were capable of influencing what degree and subsequent career somebody chose to pursue is a step on from exploring the possible meaning of marginalia and old sticky tape marks.

Do you have a similar story to tell about one of these four books, or perhaps regarding the infleunce of Ladybird books on subsequent life choices more generally? If the What to look For books could inspire someone to a career in ecology, a type of job that was markedly less common when they were first published then there must be people out there whose subsequent paths were determined by the more straightforwardly career-oriented volumes produced through Ladybird’s People at Work series.

I and J Havenand, 'The Farmer' (1963)

First published in 1963, ‘The Farmer’ by I and J Havenand gave a detailed account of farming at this time and what it entailed. It was one of Ladybird’s ‘People at Work’ series. A slightly later edition may be seen in the exhibition.

For example, the very first two of these being Vera Southgate’s The Fireman (1962) and The Policeman (1962). This is to say nothing of I and J Havenand’s The Farmer (1963), which is arguably more relevant here, as well as the nurses, builders, postmen, miners, and others whose lives might have been shaped by these formative and informative books.

Thanks to Piran and Kelly for sharing the story behind the copy they have kindly lent.

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From 6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013 an exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life presents a range of different responses to a single illustration of rural life. It focuses on a small watercolour by the artist Charles F. Tunnicliffe.

The Huntsman

'The huntsman, on his dappled grey..' by Charles Tunnicliffe (Image © Ladybird Books Ltd)

This was one of many artworks created by him for Ladybird children’s books. The painting featured in What to Look For in Autumn, published in 1960. This was part of a four-book series printed between 1959 and 1961. It was written by the biologist Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson and charted seasonal change in the countryside.

The original Ladybird artwork is held alongside the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading. This juxtaposition inspired us to invite specialists to examine a countryside image. Their responses form the core of the exhibition and together offer different answers to the question of What to Look For. They reveal the diverse stories that one illustration can tell.

Here we intend to ask how you might choose to look at this image and read the accompanying text? Are you interested in the artist, the illustration or other artistic responses? Perhaps the written word is more important. Maybe histories of science, of childhood or of hunting are more inspiring to you. What of the design of the book, its role in reading and learning, and how it teaches us to see and think about the world? As the exhibition progresses we hope that you will share your responses and join the conversation here.

What to Look For? Ladybird, Tunnicliffe, and the hunt for meaning

6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013

Dr Ollie Douglas (Museum of English Rural Life) and Dr Neil Cocks (Department of English Language and Literature)

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