Ladybird produced many books through the decades which were designed to help children to learn to read - some in a more structured way than others.
Ladybird's first foray into the realm of reading schemes was a tentative one. In series 563 an educationalist, ME Gagg was commissioned to produce the texts for a series of reading books aimed at beginner readers.
The Farm, The Zoo, The Party, Shopping with Mother etc were not a reading scheme as such because the linguistic content did not develop from book to book. Although some of the directors of Ladybird (then called Wills and Hepworth) were unhappy at paying a sum considered large at the time for books which consisted of only a word or two (Page 1: 'This is the Zoo'. Page 2: 'Here are the lions' etc) the books proved popular with teachers and Douglas Keen, an employee at the company whose work as a commercial traveller had developed his acute awareness of the market for Ladybird Books, worked hard to convince the board that the investment in Gagg's expertise was worthwhile.
Over the years, as Keen rose through the ranks of the company he was able to exert a greater role in influencing the direction of Ladybird. After meeting educationalist and ex-head teacher William Murray he conceived the idea of a large-scale, systematic Ladybird reading scheme based on Murray (and co-writer McNally's) methodology for teaching early literacy: The Key Words to Reading. Again the company, and initially Murray himself, took some convincing that the reading scheme would work as a Ladybird Books series. However, it was an inspired move. The Key Word Reader series was, is, has been Ladybird Books best-selling series. It first appeared in 1964, is still in print today and sells worldwide.
It should also be remembered that the success of the reading scheme was in no small part due to the effectiveness of the full-page illustrations, mainly produced by Martin Aitchison and Harry Wingfield.
There were 36 books in the series; the books were numbered 1 - 12 and subdivided into 'a', 'b', and 'c', where new vocabularly was introduced in the 'a' books and recycled/consolidated in the 'b' books. The 'c' books usually focused on writing and phonics.
Although the books have been in print for over 40 years, there have been a few changed along the way. The following gallery pages illustrate the main changes that have taken place in the covers and artwork over this period.
A number of books were also issued to support and supplement the reading scheme and you will soon be able to read more about them here:
Ladybird's next venture into producing another Ladybird Scheme was not until the 1980s when the TV success of Sheila McCullogh's Puddle Lane stories inspired an even more ambitious venture: the 54 books in the Puddle Lane series.
After Puddle Lane ladybird returned to William Murray and the Key Word method with a re-written adaptation of the Peter and Jane books called 'Read with Us', featuring the children 'Kate' and 'Sam'. Since 1990 there have been a few more reading schemes - but frankly I lose interest in Ladybird after 1985 so there are better sources of information on more recent books than my websites!
Click on the picture above to go to the 563 gallery.
The original version of Peter and Jane
Click on the picture above to go to the gallery of the original books in the Key Word Reader series
The first revision of Peter and Jane
Click on the picture above to visit the gallery of the 1st revision of the Key Word series