Ladybird Books on Nature

4 min read

Ladybird books, as an imprint of Wills & Hepworth bookshops and publishers, first appeared in 1914. It was under the editorial stewardship of Douglas Keen who, in 1941 had the imagination to envisage factual books exciting enough in their illustrations to inspire children to learn, but so detailed and accurate that their parents could use them too. And it wasn’t only parents – in the 1960’s the police used How It Works: The Motor Car, for the instruction of officers taking to the streets for the first time in patrol cars rather than on bicycles!

Over the subsequent thirty years, employing both accomplished writers and artists, Ladybird books became synonymous with good value, easy to understand text and well-drawn illustrations. The team at Country House Library have picked a varied selection of the finest Ladybird books covering the natural world to add to your vintage collection, and to encourage your children into the precious outdoor environment.


Vintage Ladybird: Hannibal on Holiday, 1976

Written by stalwart Ladybird author Raymond Howe and illustrated by Ladybird golden-age artist John Berry, this is one for the little ones’ quieter moments on holiday, or perhaps to while away the hours on those long journeys. One of six in the series, follow Hannibal the Hamster as he keeps escaping from his owners and on this adventure, learns all about the flora and fauna at the British seaside. Luckily, Hannibal always manages to return to his nice, comfy cage.


Ladybird Leaders (UK Nature Theme):

The Ladybird Leaders (series 737), with nearly forty published titles, were created for the younger child to act as “first information books”.  Written in clear, unadorned prose they provided an excellent introduction to non-fiction topics for primary school children in the 70’s and 80’s and created a sound basis for history and geography project work. As part of the Country House Library July focus on travelling the UK, and with a ‘nature’ theme, these vintage children’s books would be the perfect start to a collection.


Vintage Ladybird: Sea and Estuary Birds, 1967

The author and illustrator of this vintage issue (series 536, Nature), John Leigh-Pemberton, was a decorated war hero, flying for the RAF, and later went on to illustrate the post-war Shell Motoring Guides in addition to his work for Ladybird. Pemberton’s meticulous studies of animals make them ideal to illustrate children’s natural history reference books. They are small enough to act as a pocket-sized field guild – but are also a feast for the eyes. With dozens of different varieties of seabird to spot around the British coastline, this is a beautiful book for any budding ornithologist on holiday.  


Vintage Ladybird: The Story of our Rocks and Minerals, 1966

Another edition in the Nature series (series 536), this one is written by Allen Whyte, with lively and vibrant illustrations by Robert Ayton. The duo’s story-telling ability brings to life a static subject that will spark a lifelong interest in rocks and fossils for any inquisitive mind. With the British coastline home to a very diverse geology, and with areas of amazing fossilization, this is another Ladybird gem worthy of any home library collection.




First Edition Ladybird: What to Look for in Summer, 1960

This was the second book in the four ‘What to Look for’ Four Seasons books (series 536).  They are a wonderful collaboration of beautiful prose by E. L. Grant Watson and the stylish, evocative and nostalgic illustrations of C. F. Tunnicliffe. This is a wonderful vintage copy of un-sung publishing masterpieces – keep an eye out for the other three seasons to collect the full set.


Ladybird Animals of the World: Sea and Air Mammals, 1972 

With eight books in the Animals of the World series (series 691), this volume was the last of the run and both written and beautifully illustrated by John Leigh-Pemberton. With the superb artwork and research in these books, this series is considered by collectors to be Leigh-Pemberton’s tour-de-force for Ladybird. Start a collection with your children of these vintage, educational works of art and browse the Country House Library collection here.




Ladybird Conservation Collection, 1976-1980

This bundle consists of six of the Conservation series (series 727) and includes the first book in the series which features a very different illustration and cover style. It was one of only two books to be co-written by Ladybird’s editorial director Douglas Keen and was stylishly illustrated by Pat Oakley.  These books were ahead of their time with their focus on the dangers of neglecting our environment - a topic close to the heart of Keen. With the wellbeing of our planet now at the forefront of the worldwide political agenda, what better addition to your children’s Ladybird collection.


This is a small selection of the Ladybird Books on offer from Country House Library. As an example of publishing innovation and collaboration between visual, literary and educational minds, Ladybird is unrivalled in its achievements over the decades. For any family vintage book collection, these affordable, pocket-sized picture/reference books are the natural place to start.

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