I was brought up on Ladybird books. The first books my mother shared with me before I could even speak were Ladybird picture books. At three years old she taught me to read with the Ladybird Key Word reading scheme. When I could read alone, I adored the Ladybird story books. Ladybird books are closely entwined with that warm, nostalgic glow of childhood and I love them as much today as I did then. When I learned that the De La Warr Pavilion were holding an exhibition of original Ladybird illustrations I was very keen to see it. Keen enough to travel 240 miles to Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex!
You can imagine what a thrill it was for me to see the original illustrations from so many of my favourite childhood books. I particularly enjoyed the complete illustrations from "Shopping with Mother", such a delightful book! Emma was particularly interested in the exhibition and we went around together, with me carrying her so she could be at the right height to see the paintings. Her favourite was an illustration from "What to Look for in Winter", depicting a snowy nature scene. She wanted to go back and look at the painting several times. I loved the time I shared with her here. It felt very special.
I understand why you are not able to photograph the paintings, but it is a great shame as there was one in particular I wanted to record. As I walked around the gallery, I came across an illustration from "Things to Make" that suddenly illuminated a childhood memory for me. I have always vividly remembered a nightmare I had when I was about three or four years old. I was being chased by what could only be described as a pink painted matchbox with brown hair and a brown moustache. I found it absolutely terrifying! I remember waking up with my heart racing and running down the corridor to my mum's room. Imagine my surprise when I found a picture of that very matchbox adorning the walls of the De La Warr pavilion! The only difference is that in the picture the pink matchbox had white hair and a white moustache. We must have owned a copy of "Things to Make" and that illustration obviously left a disturbing impression on my imaginative young mind! It really was quite a revelation to find that picture on the wall. I shall have to source a copy of the book now!
Emma examining some of the fairytale books
In addition to the paintings, there was also a display of around 600 books that we were able to photograph. I had great fun going along and spotting the ones I owned as a child. I later learned that these were loaned to the exhibition by the collector Helen Day, whose blog and website I have recently discovered and been enjoying. Her extensive collection certainly puts my own very fledgling collection to shame! I would call myself an accumulator, rather than a collector of Ladybird Books, but I am now even more keen to add to my growing stash of vintage Ladybird books.
I think it is obvious that I loved the Ladybird by Design exhibition and it was well worth the long journey. My only gripe would be the attitude of one of the staff to the children. Bearing in mind that this is an exhibition of children's book illustrations, I thought that her attitude to younger visitors to the gallery might have been more welcoming. I didn't know until afterwards that Lily was told to 'Keep away from the paintings!' in a rather sharp tone, when she assures me she was nowhere near them. Lily is a very sensible and trustworthy girl, so I know she wouldn't have been messing around. Later, when Tom wanted to pop back in and have a second look at his favourite painting before we set off for home he was sent on his merry way, despite the gallery being open for another ten minutes, the video still playing and the 'Gallery Open' sign still being clearly displayed on the door. I think it is so important for children to be welcomed at art galleries and museums (how else can we encourage them to appreciate the beauty contained within), so I was a little disappointed with their reception here. It isn't an attitude we come across very often thankfully.
I am so glad we took the trip down to Sussex to visit this exhibition. It was wonderful to share my love of these books with my children and it brought back many happy (and some scary!) memories for me. A thoroughly lovely day out!