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An afternoon with John Kenney

Last week I spent an afternoon surrounded by the artwork of the Ladybird artist John Kenney.  I went to The MERL (Museum of English Rural Life) in Reading where the Special Collections are stored.  I’ve talked about MERL and the…

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Art

John Kenney

John Kenney illustrated some of the best loved Ladybird Books of the 1950s, 60s and 70s John T E Kenney produced a great many of the wonderful Ladybird Book images at the start of what might be called the ‘golden…

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King John and the Magna Carta, 1969, Series 561

King John and the Magna Carta was the 27th title in the 561 series, colourfully written by L du Garde Peach and illustrated by John Kenney.  This book was never issued with a dustwrapper – at least, not until the facsimile editions started to appear in around 2015.

In this colourful telling of the life and times of bad King John, writer L du Garde Peach and artist John Kenney seem to be enjoying themselves – both text and illustrations dance along in lively fashion.  Yet the long-running collaboration between these two men was coming to an end.  They would go on to illustrate only two more books together.

This book is in excellent condition.  There’s a small scuff on the back cover but otherwise it’s as nice a copy as you’re likely to find. The pages are very clean and tight – they barely appear to have been opened.    This is an early edition, tally number 260.  Originally priced at 15p, which dates it to the early 1970s

 

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Joan of Arc, 1971, Series 561 (later cover)

Joan of Arc was the 28th title in the 561 series, colourfully written by L du Garde Peach and illustrated by John Kenney – one of the last books issued before the ill-health of Kenney put an end to this great collaboration.  I had this book as a child and read it many times.  There were so few important women in the Adventures in History series that any book with a woman actually on the cover was bound to seize my attention.  Of course, rooting for Joan meant booing for the English – but I seem to have reconciled myself to the idea without too much trouble.  In the 1970s the company was sold to the Longman-Pearson group who looked for ways to modernise the appearance of the books.  From the 1970s onwards they started to reprint the earlier history books with different covers – a white cover with a picture in a blue frame.  Inside, the books stayed unchanged.  (Later they went on to produce completely different editions of some of the older titles – different text and illustrations.  However, Joan of Arc was not one of these.

This copy:

Matt boards with the later ‘blue frame’ style.  Inside the covers this is the original 1972 book. Very good condition inside and out.  This copy dates to the late-1970s.

 

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Queen Elizabeth, 1958, Series 561 (DJ)

The Story of the First Queen Elizabeth was the 5th title in the 561 series, colourfully written by L du Garde Peach and illustrated by John Kenney.  Early editions were issued with a dustwrapper.  In this colourful telling of the life of Elizabeth, writer L du Garde Peach gives a very positive portrait or his subject and talks about other figures of the day, including Drake, Raleigh, Spenser, Shakespeare and Mary Queen of Scots.

This copy:

This copy still has its original dustwrapper which is not price-clipped.  It is in very good condition inside and out but for a couple of nicks to the back dj panel and the odd mark to the pages.  There’s a neat owner’s name on the front endpapers.    It dates from the early 1960s.

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Captain Scott, 1963, Series 561 (DJ)

Captain Scott is the 16th title in the 561 series, colourfully written by L du Garde Peach and illustrated by John Kenney.  This title was first published with a dustwrapper.  In this colourful telling of the ill-fated voyage, writer L du Garde Peach gives a very vivid account of the trials and suffering of the party.   Every time I read it, I find myself hoping that this time it might end differently.

This copy:

This book still has its original dustwrapper (price-clipped).  It’s in very good condition inside and out.  There’s very little wear to the DJ but a 2 inch closed tear near spine on back panel. Inside the pages are in great condition – a very small neat name to title page.   I believe it to be a first edition and is the last title listed on the DJ back flap.

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Oliver Cromwell, 1963, Series 561 (DJ)

Oliver Cromwell is the 15th title in the 561 series, colourfully written by L du Garde Peach and illustrated by John Kenney.  In this colourful telling of the life of Cromwell, writer L du Garde Peach gives a very positive portrait of the main character, supported by Kenney’s lively illustrations.  If you remember from childhood Kenney’s picture of the young Cromwell fighting with the young Charles, you’ll find it very hard later on to accept that this is just a story and never actually happened.

This copy

With its original DJ.  In Good condition inside and out.  DJ – not price-clipped –  has the odd marks, nicks and chips to the edges.  Book has clean pages.  I believe it to be a first edition – it is the last title listed on the back dj flap.

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The Circus Comes to Town, 1957 (missing DJ)

The Circus Comes To Town was the 10th book to be published in series 413 – the second series of Ladybird books ever produced.  The 413 series is quite a  random mixture of tales and rhymes – but all for pre-school children.  The best bit about the book are the wonderful John Kenney illustrations.  The book features two children who go to the circus.  That was a typical format for Ladybird at this stage – two children sharing a simple experience through pictures.  What’s notable about these two children is that they were called Peter and Jane.  Not THE Peter and Jane, who were later to star in their very own reading scheme – but  it would seem that the names lodged in the head of Douglas Keen.  Keen, in 1957, was the rising-star employee of Wills & Hepworth  – who would later go on to commission the Key Words reading scheme – the Peter and Jane books.

In common with all the books in series 401, the first edition of this book had 3 extra pages.  Later editions dropped these pages.

This copy has lost its original dustwrapper.   It’s generally in good used condition.  It has white endpapers and a closed-wing logo, so probably dates to the early 1960s

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