The early fifties saw the gradual diversification of Ladybird Books away from the ample children story books which had been the mainstay of the company through the previous decade. The Ladybird Nature Series was their first foray into non-fiction, and the start of the company's rightly deserved reputation for educational books. Perhaps Ladybird realised that children who had grown up with the earlier books were ready for something a little more grown-up, and attempted to retain previous readers as well as attract new ones.
As such, the nature books were many children's first exposure to aspects of the countryside and its wildlife. The illustrations remain vivid in the memories of many who poured over them as a child. The illustrators chosen for the books varied, giving each title a distinct identity and included some of the best in any of the Ladybird books.
The series began in 1954 with "British Birds And Their Nests", which was subtitled A Ladybird Seniors, obviously in an effort to suggest something a little more advanced than the earlier story books. This phrase was retained for the three books only, before the series title A Ladybird Nature Book was introduced, and though this title didn't appear on all volumes, it's a useful way of referring to the titles.
The three bird books all carried white title lettering on the cover, along with the author and illustrators names, a feature not repeated after this With later reprints, the white titles were replaced by the more standard hand drawn black book titles which were common to all Ladybird books hereafter. Early printings all have the spine text reading from bottom to top; this was altered in reprints and all subsequent volumes The first and second bird books were illustrated by Allen W. Seaby, with atmospheric plates including a small Illustration of the egg inset (along with a plea from the author Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, not to collect these!).
The first three bird books were taken out of print around 1970, after several more specific bird titles had been introduced. Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald also wrote the next book in the series, British Wild Flowers., published in 1957 along with the Book Of Pets., a volume perhaps aimed at younger readers, written by George Cansdale. Cansdale also wrote the following "British Wild Animals" book, though for once the illustrations (by Roland Green) are something of a disappointment, being a little unfinished in appearance.
Vesey-Fitzgerald returned with Garden Flowers in 1960, which like the previous flower book had dear illustrations making identification very simple for children. Perhaps the most readily remembered books of the series, and indeed of all Ladybirds of this era, are the "What To Look For" quartet - Winter (1959), Summer, Autumn (1960) and Spring (1961) (they were published out of sequence). Penned by E L Grant Watson, many of the illustrations by the famous natural history artist C F Tunnicliffe (who also worked for Brooke Bond tea-cards around this tie) remain evocative even today.
Each book also carried a two page index on the back page and inside back cover. With "The Weather" in 1962 Ladybird moved even further into the realms of educative illustration, with the book a mixture of more typical full page colour plates alongside neat diagrams and graphic images. Even the inner covers were utilised, with two colour illustrations of cloud types. The "Book Of Trees" repeated the idea, this time with outline shapes of tree types. Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald was once again the writer, with the illustrator (S R Badmin) adding close ups of leaf and seed types in the foreground of each main picture.
"The Seashore", written by Nancy Scott, saw almost scientific precision applied to the detailed illustrations, with the artist Jill Payne - doing one of the most attractive front covers of any of the series. It was the last of the series to carry a dust-jacket, the remaining titles all carried the later style colour printed hardbacks.
The series continued adding new titles fairly regularly through to the end of the sixties, including several more bird recognition titles written and illustrated by John Leigh- Pemberton. However the seventies saw just two more books added and at the end of the decade most of the titles were taken out of print for good, with only a couple of the original titles left.
|British Birds and their Nests
A Second Book of British Birds
A Third Book of British Birds
British Wild Flowers
Book of Pets
British Wild Animals
What to look for in Winter
Book of Garden Flowers
What to look for in Summer
What to look for in Autumn
What to look for in Spring
Book of Trees
The Seashore and Seashore Life
|The Night Sky
Butterflies Moths and other Insects
The story of our Rocks and Minerals
Sea and Estuary Birds
Heath And Woodland Birds
Pond and River Birds
Birds of Prey
Birds of Britain and Northern Europe