Ladybird Books: ‘How it Works’ running at Reading Museum

The Reading Museum poster features art titled “Outside the Toy Shop” illustrated by Harry Wingfield, from Shopping with Mother, Margaret Elise Gagg, 1958 © Ladybird Books Ltd, 1958

The Reading Museum poster features art titled “Outside the Toy Shop” illustrated by Harry Wingfield, from Shopping with Mother, Margaret Elise Gagg, 1958 © Ladybird Books Ltd, 1958

An exhibition celebrating the history of Ladybird Books is is currently running at Reading Museum, presented in partnership with the University of Reading, who hold a Special Collection of artwork, and publisher Ladybird.

The Ladybird Books: ‘How it Works’ exhibition draws on the extensive collection of original artwork held in the Ladybird Books Archive at the University of Reading, and is open to the public for free in Reading Museum.

In the spirit of Ladybird Books’ own much-loved ‘How it Works’ series, this exhibition presents a range of popular favourites alongside some lesser-known works, all set within the story of their creation.

Visitors, including downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf who is posting pictures from the exhibition on his Boys Adventure Comics Blog, get to explore the ingenious way in which Ladybird Books were constructed and see how images from the books evolved.

The Ladybird Books Archive is held at the University of Reading on behalf of Penguin Random House. It consists of books, collectibles and approximately 20,000 original pieces of artwork, some of which are displayed in the Ladybird Gallery at the Museum of English Rural Life (The MERL).

The exhibition is the first to be produced by Museums Partnership Reading, a consortium of Reading Museum and the Museum of English Rural Life, funded by Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisation scheme.

Kate Arnold-Forster, Director of the Museum of English Rural Life, said: “Ladybird Books have universal appeal and much of the artwork in the collection is very rarely displayed, so this exhibition is a fantastic opportunity for people of all generations to explore the history of these iconic books.”

Matthew Williams, Manager of Reading Museum, said: “Collaborating with The MERL has allowed us to pool resources and share expertise to showcase a very special collection in the town centre. The exhibition marks the beginning of a partnership that will also see a joint Youth Strategy, further exhibitions and collaborations on a variety of projects.”

The exhibition follows the journey of Ladybird Books, as they developed from a small Loughborough-based printing firm to a national publishing phenomenon. Highlights of the exhibition include examples of artworks by well and lesser-known Ladybird Books artists, such as Charles Tunnicliffe, Allen W. Seaby, John Kenney and Frank Humphris.

New illustrations from the Expert Books series and an exhibit unpacking the creation of the parody series by Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris will also be on display.

Part of the Archive of British Publishing and Printing, the Ladybird Books collection was placed at the University of Reading by Ladybird Books in 2003 in order to allow access for members of the public. This is possible through the Special Collections reading room and, since 2016, in the Ladybird Gallery at The MERL. The Gallery was officially launched in 2017 to coincide with the publication of the Ladybird Expert Book series.

The exhibition is accompanied by an exciting events programme that includes activities for families during school holidays, talks, a ticketed MERL Late at Reading Museum on 16th May and a seminar series at The MERL.


• Ladybird Books: ‘How it Works’ runs until 17th August 2019 at Reading Museum, Blagrave Street, Reading, RG1 1QH | Free entry | Web:

Boys Adventure Comics: Ex-Eagle artists on show in Ladybird exhibition – Part One – Frank Humphris

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