Vintage Ladybird book illustrations would be banned today

Last week, over 200 original Ladybird Books illustrations created between the late 1950s and early 1970s went on display in a nostalgia-inducing new exhibition, Ladybird by Design.

The vibrant midcentury illustrations paint a picture of British life in more innocent times, while the exhibition itself – which celebrates 100 years of the classic children's publisher – explores the utopian world of Ladybird, and its unique perspective on British social and design history.

In Ladybird's hyperrealistic world, rosy-cheeked children shop with mother, learn to swim and perform magic tricks in the safe, smiling anonymity of new postwar towns.

Image courtesy of Ladybird Books Ltd /GEOFF ROBINSON

But delve further into the exhibition and you'll find images of children happily conducting all manner of experiments without – whisper it – safety equipment or adult supervision.

In one illustration from Bowood and Newing's 1960s Junior Science Series, a girl strips a metal battery with pliers while a boy uses his tongue to make an electric circuit. Another features a boy testing the principles of insulation by dipping his finger into boiling water.

Remember these? Millions of children grew up with Ladybird classics like Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots. See them all in display at Ladybird by Design

Running behind the themed sections of original artwork, a long corridor displays a vast display of classic Ladybird Books, ranging from classic bedtime stories like Puss in Boots and Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten to educational titles covering everything from telling the time to Australian mammals.

For the generations who grew up with Ladybird Books, it's an enchanting, eerily familiar reminder of a world once known, and the exhibition has attracted hundreds of smiling visitors already to the iconic De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea.

Rows and rows of Ladybird classics line the shelves at the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill

Lawrence Zeegen, professor of Illustration and dean of the School of Design at the London College of Communication, was closely involved in curating the exhibition – which takes its name from Zeegen's new book, Ladybird by Design, due to be published on 5 March 2015.

The Ladybird by Design exhibition runs until 10 May at the De La Warr Pavillion in Bexhill-on-Sea, England, and is free to enter.

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