Something else to look out for when collecting Ladybird books: foreign language editions.

Although we think of these books as quintessentially British – or perhaps more accurately English – they were also issued in a great many other languages. These books are usually harder to get hold of and so are ideal for the collector who is looking for the next challenge.

Foreign language books began early in the life of standard-sized Ladybird books. In about 1953, 4 titles were available in French: two titles from the ‘Wonk’ series (417) and two from the ‘Tasseltip’ series (474). These titles were: Le Secret (The Secret), Le Cirque (The Circus), Le Petit Tablier de Soie (A Little Silk Apron), Taupinet Pend La Cremaillere (Mr Mole’s Housewarming Party). It is hard enough to find the English version of these books so you can feel pretty smug if you ever find French versions. And here, she said (pretty smugly) are some pictures:

Perhaps this was an experiment by Wills and Hepworth. If so, perhaps it wasn’t a a terribly successful one. I am unsure what the market was intended to be – for English people learning French or for sale in France itself or both.

However, by the end of the 1950s the experiment resumed. This time I think they were issued for the overseas market and I don’t believe they were advertised for sale in this country – though I would be grateful to hear from any collector who has evidence that books other than Wonk and Tasseltip were advertised in Britain.

The next big challenge for the Ladybird book collector is to find copies of pre-1964 Ladybird books in different languages complete with Dust Jackets. I have no idea which languages were issued in DJ editions. I have a Swedish book and I have seen a 401 book in, I think, Afrikaans with DJ. Any input from other collectors on this would also be appreciated.From the ‘matt era’ onwards (post 1965) it is much easier to find a range of Ladybird books in different languages. It is sometimes stated that Ladybird books were issued in 60 languages, though I find it hard to believe that this was actually the case. The languages I know of are as follows:

Starting with The Mediterranean, a great many series were produced in French , among them Well-Loved Tales, Puddle Lane (Rue du Dragon) and Early Learning titles. For a pretty comprehensive list, Nicole’s web-site is the one you want (see my ‘Links’ page). Ladybird books were also issued in Greek, Maltese, Spanish, Turkish and (though I’ve only heard of one title) Italian.

If you pick up a book that you think is in German , check that it isn’t perhaps Dutch or Afrikaans :

Moving northwards we have the Scandinavian languages (and Finnish).

(It took me an evening of research to verify that ‘Tornerose’ was in fact in Norwegian, since the significant differences between Danish and Norwegian appear to be in the pronunciation!). There are also Ladybirds to be found in Icelandic .Closer to home, you could read Peter and Jane in Welsh or Scots Gaelic or enjoy a Well-Loved Tale in Irish Gaelic. My questions to collectors out there is, “Were the ‘C’ books of Peter and Jane ever published in these languages or did they just issue the reading (A and B) books?

Moving further afield there are Ladybird books to be found in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Malay. My favourite of these are the Arabic books because, of course, the script is read from right to left and therefore you feel you are starting from the ‘back’ of the book.

And here are the ‘front’ endpapers, at what feels like the back of the book:

I understand that there is also a book or two to be found in Zulu! – which would be a great addition to any collection.

There are also some bi-lingual books to be found in Chinese – with cassettes in Cantonese. These are almost replicas of the standard-sized version of the stories they reproduce, but are about 4cms longer to allow for the Chinese text at the bottom. They were produced in collaboration with Longman and feature books from series 777 and 606d (later style).

Then there are the ‘Not really foreign languages, but sort-of fit in here’ group:

Peter and the Wolf comes from the surprisingly hard to find “ELT” series of Ladybird Books – classic reading stories, simplified to give fluency practice for those for whom English is not the first language. This time English is the Foreign Language. (And on that subject, perhaps we should make a separate category for books in American English)

Jen Londono is the only title published in Esperanto – the artificial language intended to be the world’s lingua franca.

The edition of The Farmer, that seems to be misprinted is, in fact, an example of the reading scheme popular in the 1970s called ITA . Devised in the 1960s by James Pitman (of Pitman shorthand fame), the idea was to produce an alphabet of English that represented English words in a phonetically consistent way. It was meant to make it easier for children to learn to read – but suffered a meteoric fall from grace when research indicated that it was doing more harm than good.

I would be very grateful if you would let me know of any Ladybird book you have in a language I haven’t mentioned.