Kenney's Ladybird books

Many of us today who have a love of history may feel this is in part due to the vivid and enthralling Ladybird illustrations in the history books that they grew up with.

On Thursday 13th of June, a plaque will be installed at the location in Kibworth, Leicestershire near to the spot where John Kenney lived.  If you live near Kibworth and you remember John Kenney or any of his work, you are very welcome to attend the ceremony at on Thursday 13th June.

In Ladybird circles Kenney is best remembered for his vibrant, vigorous artwork for the History series of Ladybird books, for his creation of the much-loved character ‘Tootles the Taxi’ or portrayal of Robin Hood in The Silver Arrow and The Ambush.

Tootles souvenir edition

Toootles souvenir edition 1999.  Because the book was so well-loved, it was chosen to as the souvenir edition given to all staff members on the closure of the Ladybird factory in 1999.  The number of each copy reflected the number of years the employee had worked for Ladybird

A keen hunter, Kenney illustrated many scenes of horses, hounds and the Leicestershire countryside.  But he is also well known for illustrating the Railways Series books (Thomas the Tank Engine series) between 1957 and 1962, before chronic ill health complelled him to hand over the task to another artist.


The Railway Series

One of Kenney’s illustrations

You can read a little about Kenney’s life and work and my personal appreciation of his work here on my website.

Victoria House

Kenney’s home in Kibworth

Kenney was born in Leicester and the family then moved to Rothley, between Leicester and Loughborough.  Commercial artists mainly worked on a freelance basis and Kenney was the only one of the great Ladybird artists who was  local to the company (based in Loughborough).  After his Marriage, Kenney  and wife Peggy moved to Kibworth, living in Victoria House on what was then called Victoria Street.  In the 1960s the house was demolished as part of a road straightening scheme and today the spot where it stood is part of Smeeton Road.

The plaque award is part of a scheme by Leicestershire County Council to recognise the achievements of people and places of historical interest across the county.  In 2015 the site of the early Ladybird print works, Angel Yard in Loughborough, was similarly recognised.

Angel Yard green plaque

Angel Yard Loughboroug green plaque

The unveiling will take place at Smeeton Road, Kibworth at on Thursday 13th June 2019 and all are welcome

There will be much more about John Kenney, including many pieces of original artwork on display this summer as part of Leicester Museum’s exhibition The Wonderful World of the Ladybird book artists, which opens on 13th July 2019 and runs right through August.

Kenney's Ladybird books

The Ladybird books of John Kenney


Post script

John Kenney plaque

The John Kenney plaque

Here’s the plaque itself.  I can understand why coverage, such as that on the BBC, referred to him as artist of the Railway Series because – although he only illustrated 4 of the books and was following in the footsteps of other artists – Thomas the Tank Engine has international fame.  However, given that Ladybird is a Leicestershire story, I’m surprised that wasn’t the focus for a Leicestershire plaque.