Research 4 – defining stories

Research 3 – Illustrators defining stories

  1. What is it about the illustrations that links so well with the text?
image sourced from

John Berry was the artist behind this range of Ladybird books focused on people at work.  They were fascinating.  The information being given was clear and direct and the art alongside it gave a richness to the words.  It brought it to life.  The detail and the imagery was of real people, and that level of detail in the oil paintings came across to a little kid.  These were also the only books that I was exposed to at a young age, so a bias may have formed, but in some ways, I prefer this style of illustration to the cartoon style that prevails in picture books now, or the replacement of photography in some cases.

This also acted as a portal to another world and a slice of insight into other countries.  His paintings were always friendly, bright, and inviting.  The weather was never awful in them and they captured a moment that felt very real, so you felt part of that while you read.

  • Is it simply familiarity, that we’ve got used to seeing these characters in this way, or is there more going on in the relationship between image and text?
images sourced at

As mentioned previously, John Berry was a portrait artist that was associated with the ladybird books. His influences were Rembrandt and Velázquez.   His amazing skills that were originally put towards portraits, were put into the Ladybird books that were published from the 1940s until the late 1990s.  These illustrations were done by highly skilled artists who had studied for many years and had intended to pursue careers in Fine Art or Architecture.

During WWII, the children’s books were created a certain way as a drive to conserve paper so they were created as a 50-page book in a certain format.  In the book, the text was extremely limited and simple so the image was doing most of the work to determine whether you would be drawn in or not.  However, we also had a phenomenal range of fine artists and portrait artists that were available for commercial work at that time, simply because the post war era made it impossible for them to pursue their chosen career.  Commercial art was available to artists and some of them found it demeaning work but needed the money.

There were a range of themes associated with the books.  Following the 1950’s the books went from a learning to read and aimed at young children, to a more technical format, people at work, practical forms and historically themed.  It started to follow more in line with the school curriculum.  Before that, the books felt more like a safe space for children to lose themselves, almost idyllic in nature. 

There were a number of artists hired for their skills in drawing nature that were well known as artists in this field outside of the ladybird books.  This lent a quality to the books that meant they were taken more seriously.

The format of 24 illustrations in the book and the illustration being a full page, meant that the artists were well paid and the job done was taken seriously.  This meant that the images produced for the books were astonishingly detailed.  It was a lot to ask but those that fit the brief and produced the work got regular work.


Kent Life (2018) Helen Day: The Story of the Ladybird artists comes to Canterbury

[Accessed 25th May 2021]

Helen Day (2019) Artists of ladybird books

[Accessed 25th May 2021]

Ladybird books (2021) Who were the artists?’s%20illustrators,known%20in%20the%20art%20world.

[Accessed 25th May 2021]