Dr Neil Cocks writes:
The BBC has recently joined in the centenary celebration of Ladybird books.
Here at Reading we are fortunate to hold a unique archive of Ladybird material, including the largest collection of its original art work. In 2012, I curated an exhibition celebrating this work at the Museum of English Rural Life. At its centre was an exploration of a painting by Charles Tunnicliffe depicting an autumnal scene with a huntsman on horseback, which was published by Ladybird books in 1960. Different academic specialists from the University were invited to show how their discipline helped them engage with this work. Collectively these responses from typography, education, biology, literature, cultural history, art history and rural history revealed the diverse stories that a single illustration can tell. To accompany the exhibition, around 100 additional illustrations were displayed to the public. This is a fraction of the entire collection. Seated in this display room for most of the opening night, I noticed that just about everyone who came in found themselves saying “wow!”
The Ladybird archive has tremendous potential for academic research. The emergence of the Ladybird Key Words reading scheme in the 1970s would make a fascinating subject for linguistic analysis, students of design could find inspiration in the explicit connections made between pedagogy and typography within that series, whilst the often problematic constructions of gender, class and race might help literary scholars think through the politics of representation within mid-century British children’s literature. Academic expertise exits in all of these fields and we would be delighted to develop both undergraduate and postgraduate projects with interested researchers.