First published by Ladybird in 1965, this timeless story tells the tale of an impoverished shoemaker and his wife. Out of the kindness of his heart, the shoemaker donates his last pair of shoes to a needy lady. Luckily, a group of elves rush to the shoemaker’s aid in the middle of the night. The elves then help him make shoes, which sell for higher prices than usual. A tale of morality and overcoming hardship, this delightful story teaches plenty of important life lessons.
The first pocket-sized Ladybird book was published by A. Wills & Hepworth in 1940 – it was called Bunnikin’s Picnic Party and was the start of series 401.
There will not be many of us who grew up in Britain between the 1950s and 1980s who do not have some memory of Ladybird books. Over those years, wherever there were children there were probably Ladybird books and, through their vivid artwork, they helped shape the background imagery of many childhoods.
In 1964 Ladybird Books started to publish its most popular fairy-tale books and the ‘Peter and Jane’ reading series books, so their imagery coloured children’s world.
However, the Ladybird books of History and Achievements were the backbone of many children’s school projects such as The Story of Medicine.
But it was largely due to one man’s vision and conviction that children’s book publication eventually replaced all other aspects of the business. Douglas Keen, returning to Wills & Hepworth as a salesman after war-service, spent much of his time talking to book retailers, librarians and school head teachers and he soon concluded that Wills & Hepworth was missing a trick. There was a shortage of well-made, colourful and robust non-fiction books to meet the demands of the burgeoning education market.
Keen’s attempts to convince the directors initially fell on deaf ears so, undeterred, he decided to produce a prototype, non-fiction Ladybird book, aimed at the older child. His choice of topic was one that interested him personally – British birds – and he wrote the text himself. His mother-in-law and wife, both talented amateur artists, were asked to produce the illustrations.
This prototype served its purpose; the directors were finally convinced and in 1953 British Birds and their Nests, written by naturalist Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald and illustrated by Allen Seaby, was published. It was a great and immediate hit and set the company upon the path to extraordinary success.
We doubt if Ladybird themselves could put a truly accurate figure on how many Ladybird books they have published, but our research shows that between 1940 and 1980 (the first forty years) 63 different series were published which amounts to 663 individual titles.