A Chance Meeting and a Ladybird Exhibition

One of the things that I love about Oxford is its book culture. It is so full of people who love books, be they OICPS Publishing students Trainee Professionals, Publishing and Research Professionals, tourists, C.S. Lewis enthusiasts, Tolkien enthusiasts, Lewis Carroll enthusiasts (guilty as charged!), students, teachers… the list is endless. 

Today, I met a lovely middle-aged couple at the bus stop and after answering their questions about bus times and ticket prices, we got onto the subject of my Masters and subsequently books. They told me that they had visited a Ladybird Art Exhibition in Grantham, which runs until the end of October and I now rather want to go to. It displays original artworks from 1960s and 1970s Ladybird science titles.

The husband, whose name I stupidly forgot to ask, remarked about the colours, the brightness and the lack of subtle shades in their design. He had a theory that their choice in colour, at the time of their creation (all of them were hand painted), was heavily influenced by possibly ongoing post-war shortages. While I am unsure if this is correct, it makes me want to find out. His enthusiasm for the exhibition and its quality was enough to get me at least a little bit excited about it.

Now, science isn’t my usual area of interest – I am ever the Children’s and Young Adult fiction enthusiast – but there was one title I found while researching which has me intrigued:

The Ladybird Book of The Night SkyThe Ladybird Book of The Night Sky.

While there are more sophisticated books about the constellations, which make use of the ever-improving astrological technology of our age, the Ladybird title has its own sort of charm. As all* of the images are painted by hand, there is little assurance of its accuracy. Rather than being the be all and end all of children’s astronomy books, it becomes astronomy through the eyes of the painter(s) and that concept is very tempting. Having sourced some second-hand copies, my finger is hovering over the ‘buy’ button and it is taking a lot of control** not to click.

Its age is part of its charm, with vintage being ‘in’ it’s not difficult to find myself leaning towards it (though I have always been interested in antiques, my book choices tend to be much older).

Claudine King-Dabbs writes of the book:

It demystifies the same sky observed by Isaac Newton – and seeks to explain the mechanisms and movements of the planets and stars – to unravel and explain the mysteries of our solar system, again, like Newton.

The link to her article on the conception of the exhibition can be found at the end of this post.

The night sky has always been something that fascinates me (I own a rabbit named Orion as testimony for my love of the stars, and rabbits; despite Orion treading on/hunting Lepus, the rabbit constellation, which is something I didn’t think about when giving him the name… but I digress), so it is unsurprising that it is this book which had pulled me in. Science for people who do not go out of their way to learn about the subject.

Without this chance meeting, I would never have known about the exhibition or even the above book; the people here have such enthusiasm about the printed (and now digital) word and love to share it if the conversation wanders down that path. It’s lovely to experience.

When the bus arrived, we parted ways and I spent the whole journey home thinking about Grantham, a place I have never visited, and the books on display there.

The Exhibition takes place at The Grantham Museum from 10am until 4pm and is free, so I highly recommend a visit. More details about the event can be found here.

For those interested in the event’s conception, the article can be read here.

While we are on the subject of events, my Resources page will list relevant museums and such with permanent book-related exhibitions (temporary exhibitions might also be listed depending on the amount of time I have free to take care of the upkeep of such a list).


*from what I can gather, having never seen inside the book I can only assume that all of the images are painted.

**The control is necessary, I already spent an alarming amount of money on books for my degree today. Adding another onto that total is not in my best interests, nor would it make my bank account very happy.