In 1976, six Ladybird books in the Ladybird Key Sounds series were published to help children learn to read, through the sounds of letters. This form of learning is called phonetics and differs from the use of flash cards, where a child is shown a whole word and learns its shape. The book shown here is the first volume and from the examples shown on page 6 appears to concentrate on the sound of the letter ‘a‘. The pages shown feature words beginning with the letter ‘b‘, but later pages would have featured such words as ‘cat’, ‘hat’ and ‘mat’. Each volume has the same format with the letter or letters to be pronounced on the left-hand page with an example word, which is illustrated, on the opposite page. There are other relevant words in small print at the bottom of the left-hand  page and smaller pictures to identify and say beneath the main illustration. The books were written by Mervyn Benford and illustrated by Gerald Witcomb.

This series was produced in the format that had become standard for Ladybird books. All had hard covers, measured approximately four-and-a-half by seven inches (11.5 cm by 18 cm) and had 56 pages. They were designed for parents to read with their children; pointing to the pictures, emphasising the sound of the word and asking the child to repeat. Through repetition, a child would associate the letter with the sound and take first steps in reading.

The back cover of these books drew attention to the next stage in learning to read through the Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme. The scheme was launched in 1964 and featured Peter and Jane and their parents. There were 36 titles – a, b and c readers, two picture dictionaries and pre-recorded tapes and cassettes. There were also six Key Words Easy Readers. Parents could help their children through the Key Words Scheme, but the books were widely used in schools.

The Ladybird Sounds and Pictures books, as featured here, have been out of print for many years, but, in 2005, Ladybird issued a fresh series of six books with the same name, with the added words ‘Say the Sound’. One featured the alphabet,  but the others had a cover illustration of an object, together with its name and writ large the relevant vowel to be sounded : apple, egg, insect, orange, umbrella. These books are also out of print and have been superseded by a range of learning materials, none of which are in the original Ladybird format.

Between 1914 and 2019, 1300 titles were published under the Ladybird name. Other examples can be found on this Memory Box site, with more information on the history and range of the books.


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More information:

Date 1970s
Material(s) CardboardPaper
Item number MBPO86

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • Do you remember learning or teaching phonetic reading with Ladybird books? When was this?
  • Have you kept any ladybird books? If so, which?
  • Have a look at the photographs of this book, then return here. What words beginning with 'the letters 'ba' can you remember?
  • On page 6, Book six of this series has examples of words beginning with the letters 'br'. Can you think what they might be?

User Stories

There were six books in this series. Here are the covers of the other five.

John Henry “Harry” Wingfield (4 December 1910 – 5 March 2002) was the illustrator whose pictures featured in the Ladybird Books Key Words Reading Scheme with Peter and Jane, which sold over 80 million copies worldwide. Here are examples of his work. Do you remember them?

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