Ask me a question! (Ladybird related!) and I’ll try to answer it
1) Reading Schemes
2) Buying and Selling old Ladybird Books
3) Collecting Ladybird Books
4) Searching for a particular book
1) Ladybird Reading Schemes
I want to get hold of the Peter and Jane reading scheme for my child/grandchild. The series is an old one so how can I get hold of it today?
Actually this series is still in print today! Although it was first issued in 1964, it has, over the decades, proved to be Ladybird’s bestseller. Reading fashions come and go, but it has been worthwhile for ladybird to keep the series in print. You can still find these books in your local bookshop (in the UK) for, I think £2.50 a book. If you can’t find them on the shelves, you will be able to order them or purchase them from an online book retailer (including direct from www.Ladybird.co.uk
But are the books on sale today exactly the same as the books I remember from school?
The cover styles have changed quite a lot over the years and in the 1970s the artwork was extensively revised. But Murray’s carefully crafted text has remained pretty well unchanged over the years. So if you remember the books from the late 1980s onwards, the pictures you find in the books today will probably match your memories. If your memories of the books predate this, you would need to get hold of the original version of the books with the original 1960s artwork.
I don’t know if I remember the pre or post 1970s books? How can I check?
Well one way would be to look at this page of the website of Martin Aitchison. Click on the gallery of 1960s artwork and then on the 1970s artwork page and see which one rings the strongest bells.
I want to get a full set; how many books were in the complete Peter and Jane series?
There were 36 books: 12 ‘a’books with blue covers, numbered from 1a – 12a, 12 ‘b’ books with red/orange covers, numbered from 1b – 12b and 12 ‘c’ books with green covers, numbered (you guessed it) from 1c – to 12c. There were also a few ‘companion books to the series, including a reading-scheme handbook for parents called ‘Teaching Reading’, two ‘Picture Dictionaries’ and a few other titles. You’ll find a complete list of the titles here.
What do the ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ mean? Why aren’t they just numbered from 1 – 36?
There are 12 ‘levels’ in the reading scheme. The ‘a’ book in each series introduces some new words. These words are then recycled in the ‘b’ books to give the child extra practice. The ‘c’ books are a bit different – tending to focus on writing and phonics. Every time new words are introduced they are carefull combined with the language already ‘taught’ in earlier levels. This means that Murray had very few options in the earliest levels of the series – having only a few ‘key’ words to construct his stories from and inevitably the text sounds very stilted. But this is where the wondeful illustrations came in; the child could make a story for themselves by ‘reading’ the detailed pictures accompanying the very sparce text. What’s more, for the child who learns ‘step by careful step’ the series can prove reassuring.
I remember this series – but I thought the children were called ‘Janet and John’?
Nah. That’s a different reading series. The Janet and John books pre-date the Peter and Jane books and weren’t published by Ladybird.
What about ‘Susan’ and ‘John’? Are they earlier versions of ‘Peter and Jane’?
Not really. In the 1950s Ladybird, persuaded by Douglas Keen, were experimenting with books for the schools market and engaged an educationalist, M E Gagg, to write some ‘early reading’ books. This was series 563 called ‘Learning to Read’. This series was popular with teachers and gave weight to Keen’s argument that ladybird should produce a complete reading scheme. Although the ‘Learning to read’ series was illustrated by Harry Wingfield, who, along with Martin Aitchison, went on to illustrate many of the Peter and Jane books,it wasn’t until Keen met Educationalis William Murray a few years later, in the early 1960s that the Peter and Jane books were conceived.
What typeface was used in the Peter and Jane books?
I’ve never been able to find a satisfactory answer to this one. Sorry!.
PS, someone (thanks Robert) has kindly emailed me with the following: “The typeface used in Books 3 to 6 is Gill Sans; Clarendon is used in Books 7 to 9 and 10c; and Times New Roman in Books 10a, 10b, 11 and 12”.
So, can anyone solve the big question of books 1 and 2 (1960s version of the books)?
I remember the Puddle Lane books of the 1980s. Are they still in print?
No, I’m afraid not. To get hold of them you’ll have to track them down second-hand from car-boot sales or get them online from a site like mine 😉
How many books are there in the Puddle Lane series?”
There were 54 books in the standard size: 21 books in level 1 (blue in colour) 16 books at level 2 (green colour) 10 books at level 3 (orange) 5 books at level 4 (purple) and 2 books at level 5 (reddish pink). There was also a larger sized book called ‘Christmas in Puddle Lane’ and a much larger ‘annual’ style book called ‘The Puddle Lane Story Book’.
What were the titles of the Puddle Lane books?
2) Buying and selling
I’ve got some Ladybird Books I don’t mind selling. Do you buy Ladybird Books?
Not really. Although I’ve always got masses of books available for sale, I’m a collector not a dealer. If you had a huge collection that you didn’t mind selling for peanuts I might be interested 😉 But this would be for the fun of sifting through them and finding possible upgrades. There are a few dealers around who specialise in Ladybird Books. They might be interested – you can find their names easily enough on Google. Or you can sell them on eBay or Amazon; it’s quite straightforward – especially eBay.
What you don’t want to do is spend ages researching them all and making spreadsheets of details you think are significant. This will take you ages and is unwilling to reward you financially. Of the hundreds of titles that Ladybird produced, only a small number have a value to the collector of, say, £50 or more. The vast majority will be worth between 50p – a couple of pounds in very good condition. The trouble is, it’s very hard to give simple advice on which books are valuable and which are not. Age is one factor, condition another – of course – but scarcity and popularity are the main factor and that varies hugely series by series and book by book.
So, as I say, the simplest thing to do is to use eBay. If you use the ‘completed items’ function of the search you can get a pretty good feel prices very soon. The fact is, most Ladybird books from the 60s, 70s and beyond were printed in huge numbers so are worth fairly little today because they are still readily available online. So you’re really looking for the exceptions.
If you have a lot of them and not much time or interest, I’d advise you
a) to only sell sound, usable books – no missing pages, big scribbles etc
b) take lots of photos. Then put them on eBay in large lots but where you can see each spine and cover. Collectors look on eBay. They know what they want. If you have a rare treasure lurking in your collection, it will be spotted by collectors and the bidding will reflect this. Your books will find a fair price.
I want to build up a collection. Where can I find old Ladybird Books these days?
If you’ve got plenty of time and aren’t looking for just a few, particular books then the best thing to do is to hunt around car-boot sales and charity shops – although there aren’t as many around as there used to be. For particular titles, your best bet is a site like mine – or you can look on Amazon, eBay or Abebooks (www.abebooks.com)
How much should I pay for a Ladybird Book?
I’m afraid there’s not answer to that. Although you may be able to pick up many titles for about 50p each – I have paid as much as £300 for a book. (Hey! It was birthday present and Christmas present!) and I’ve certainly seen very rare books sell for even more.
I’ve got a book with mis-printings, pages upside down etc. Is it valuable?
No, probably not. Ladybird Books from the 1960s onwards were printed on tight timescales and in such vast numbers that mistakes were very common. There are many of these mis-printed books around and they have no value. However, some older (pre 1960s) books had mis-prints which might be of interest to a collector. For example, there is an unfortunate misprint in the first edition of What to Look for in Winter, which marks the book out as a first edition and therefore adds value. I’ve known a collector or two who collect copies with Erratum stickers and early mistakes of this kind.
I’ve got a number of books from the 1980s and 1990s. They state inside that they are First Editions? Are they valuable?
No, I’m afraid not. Almost all the books of this era, for some obscure reason, state this.
What was the oldest Ladybird Book?
The oldest Ladybird Books with the signature small size and format were published in 1940 (more details here) but Wills & Hepworth had been publishing occasional children’s books under the name of ‘Ladybird Book’ since the early years of the 20th Century.
Which is the rarest Ladybird Book?
Opinion differs a little on this, but probably most collectors would agree on The Impatient Horse (the only book in series 538) or High Tide (the last book in series 401).
What is the most that anyone has ever paid for a Ladybird Book?
I have heard that someone once paid over £600 for a book a few years ago. I have often seen a rarer title sell for around £300.
I’ve sometimes seen books whose dustwrappers have been protected in a special clear DJ protector. When can I get this from?
I buy mine online – Trimsleeve – the narrowest width is good for Ladybird Books here
What does it mean when people talk about the ‘tally’ when describing a ladybird book?
On the back cover (or dj flap) of most Ladybird Books between 1964 and 1972 there is a line which states how many Ladybird Titles had been published at that time. This information can be useful when trying to date a book or discover which was the first edition.
What does it mean when a book is described as having ‘buff’, ‘matt’ or ‘lam’boards?
‘Buff’ is the beigy colour typical of books published between 1960 and 1964. Originally there would have been a colourful dustwrapper covering these boards, so if a book has ‘buff boards’ and description of the book doesn’t mention a dustwrapper, you know that it must once have had one. Dustwrappers were designed to protect the book so over the years they often grew very tatty and either fell off or were removed.
Books after 1965 were never issued with dustwappers – the cover picture was printed on the front cover and most books issued between 1965 and 1983 had covers with a dull, matt finish.
From the late 1970s Ladybird began experimenting with ‘laminated’ covers. They proved more durable and cheaper to manufacture this way and all books after 1983 have a glossy, ‘wipe-clean’ finish, sometimes abbreviated in book descriptions to ‘lam’.
4) Searching for a specific book
I am desperate to find the edition of Cinderella that I remember as I child – but there seem to be a lot of different Ladybird versions printed over the years. How can I find out which one I remember?
You should find a guide to Ladybird Cinderellas (hey! It’s a niche market!) by clicking here.
I remember a book with a poem about washing out a porridge pot / when Daddy fell into the pond
That’s the version of Bedtime Rhymes, edited by Audrey Daly, 1977.
I remember a book with a little boy on the cover and there was a poem about Old Tom Tomato and Ball Ball Bouncey.
That’s also a book called ‘Bedtime Rhymes, but that’s a much earlier version – by Geoffrey Lapage, first printed 1946 – but in print for the next 20 years.
[Editors note: Hey – don’t ask me why those last two questions are frequently asked – but they are! 😉 ]