Ladybird Books are known and loved the world over. For millions of people, they evoke golden days of childhood, of learning to read and discovering the magic of books. The publishing phenomenon of Ladybird Books for Grown ups – adult humour books featuring original artwork from the Ladybird archive – not only testifies to the brand’s nostalgic appeal but has also introduced Ladybird’s distinctive style to a new generation.
Now an imprint of Penguin Books, the Ladybird brand celebrated its centenary in 2015 and it was a chance conversation with the Penguin Licensing team during this anniversary year that first set us thinking about the potential for a Shakespeare range. Illustrations with a Shakespearean theme were duly collated from the Ladybird archive and a product range developed in collaboration with printers King and McGaw.
Exclusively designed for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the range features illustrations of Shakespeare and his world from the golden age of Ladybird Books. William Shakespeare, illustrated by Roger Hall, was published in 1981, a late addition to the popular Adventures from History series, series 561. However, Shakespeare and related illustrations had featured in earlier Ladybird books: Sir Walter Raleigh (1957) and The Story of the First Queen Elizabeth (1958) from the same series, illustrated by John Kenney, The Story of Theatre (1970) illustrated by Martin Aitchison, and Some Great Men and Women (1972) illustrated by Frank Humphris.
Ladybird Books were unique in the fact that they were illustrated not by children’s illustrators, but by experienced commercial artists. Hall, for instance, had produced the cover artwork for Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (in what was the first depiction of James Bond on a book cover), while both Humphris and Aitchison had previously worked for The Eagle comic. All four artists - and all five books - are represented in the new Shakespeare collection.
Across a series of prints, cards and sketchbooks, the collection offers a charming and nostalgic view of Shakespeare’s world, with scenes ranging from Shakespeare at School and Shakespeare’s New Place through to The Globe Theatre and Shakespeare meeting Elizabeth I.
The books are all long out of print but we were very pleased to discover we have copies of The Story of the Theatre, The First Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare in the Trust’s library collection and we have featured these in our marketing photography. More pleasing still was to discover that the Trust had contributed to the William Shakespeare book and that the inside back cover carried an advertisement for the Shakespeare Bookshop. What we thought was a new collaboration had in fact started more than 35 years ago!
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