There is not a room in our house that doesn't contain books. A day wouldn't seem quite right unless something had been read in it! Our son's first school, which he only attended for a short time, didn't believe pressure should be brought to bear on a child to force them to read. We agreed. However, once we'd moved, the headmaster of his new school, a far more traditional establishment, expressed horror that our son at five was unable to read! I told him he was read to every single day and totally loved books, that he lived in a house filled with them, and that it was inconceivable to us, his parents, that he wouldn't grow up with a passion for reading too. The school exerted some gentle pressure on us but we still refused to put any on him - and guess what? He didn't turn out illiterate as feared; he did English Literature at A level and might easily have taken it as his main subject at university, if Art hadn't been his chosen path in life.
My point is that early reading should always aim to be a pleasure! The first books I ever owned, and many of these are still in my possession today, were Ladybird books. I absolutely adored them. Each of them cost my parents 2/6d (that's 12.5 pence in today's money). My parents were not wealthy, and I was given one a month. I recall how difficult it was to pick from all the available titles. I still have several of these today and still love the wonderful illustrations: What to look for in Spring, What to look for in Summer, What to look for in Autumn, What to look for in Winter (all illustrated by the marvellous CF Tunnicliffe RA), Stone Age Man in Britain, William the Conqueror, The Story of Captain Cook, The Story of Marco Polo and many others.
Anyone who was around in Britain in the late fifties/early sixties will probably agree that everything was still a bit drab. The Second World War had cost us dearly as a nation, not only in the blood spilled but because of the great financial drain on our resources - some rationing was still in place until the year before I was born, almost ten years after the end of WWII. I seem to remember that just about everything: the woodwork on the outside and inside of houses, clothes, even toys were mostly grey, brown or dark green. It's perhaps why everything went absolutely nuts in the Flower Power era and so (embarrassingly, when you see pictures of yourself in that dreadful shirt!) colour-crazy and uncoordinated - a reaction against the austerity of those post-war years perhaps?
Ladybird books however were way ahead of the game. One of the things that attracted me to them, like a bee to nectar, was the wonderful full-page all-colour illustrations. Years after I had outgrown the books I still recall gaining pleasure from browsing through them and enjoying the artwork - indeed from time to time I still do. The first book was produced in Loughborough, Leicestershire during WWI, the company claiming to publish 'Pure and healthy literature for children'. Apparently in their first ABC book, A stood for Armoured Train - so it's doubtful these would be considered politically correct today! Their How it Works: The Motor Car (published 1965) was (he chuckles affectionately) used by Thames Valley Police driving school as a simple general guide. And their How it Works: The Computer was adopted by some university lecturers as an introduction to computing for their students. And apparently, some 200 copies of this same book were ordered in plain brown covers by the Ministry of Defence (tee hee hee!). The pocket-sized Ladybird book complete with a dust jacket that my wife and I remember (yes, she was busy reading Ladybirds in Kent at the same time as me in South Wales) first appeared during the Second World War. Our son went on to have his own collection with titles that were of their time and often based on popular TV series, like He-man and She-Ra, Transformers, Thomas the Tank Engine etc.
Today the brand is part of Penguin Children's Books and the books have been translated into over sixty languages, but fortunately Ladybird remains in business, offering fun affordable books for children, after nearly a hundred years.