Ladybird Books updates its iconic illustrated What To Look For books, 60 years on

Somerset-based illustrator Natasha Durley has brought her playful, vibrant style to the non-fiction children's series exploring nature through the seasons.

Date
21 January 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

The original What To Look For series by Ladybird Books became an instant classic when it was released in the late 50s and early 60s, and still today, seeing the pages illustrated by naturalistic painter Charles Tunnicliffe stirs nostalgia abound. So it’s fair to say there was some pressure on Somerset-based illustrator Natasha Durley to “measure up” to these iconic titles when she was asked to refresh the non-fiction children’s series for a modern audience. But there was a more important subject at hand: how to update the books, not just stylistically, but in content. While the books still teach kids about nature through the seasons, they also now explore how these seasons have changed since the original titles were made.

“I think it’s more important than ever for children to feel connected to the natural world,” Durley tells It’s Nice That. “When the originals came out, the environment wasn’t the pressing issue it is today and technology, like the internet, wasn't vying for everyone's attention. I hope these books can play a small role in inspiring today’s children to be curious about the world around them and develop a love and respect for nature.”

As an illustrator whose practice is inspired by nature but often strays visually from real life, Durley’s challenge was to find a balance between imagination and documentary. “I enjoy going big and bold with colour palettes, so the main challenge was to stay true to the subject matter, yet still retain my love of colour,” she explains. “Thankfully, I had super art direction from James Stevens, who kept the balance just right. This allowed me more freedom to relax into the process, and after the first couple of pages, we landed on a look that balanced my style with the informative yet friendly ‘Ladybird’ feel.”

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Natasha Durley and Elizabeth Jenner: What To Look For In Spring cover (Copyright © Ladybird Books, 2021)

Durley says the biggest contrast between this and her day-to-day illustration practice was how strict she needed to be regarding artistic licence. “I was thankfully allowed to retain my slightly quirky, playful style, but I had to be far more careful about not going too off-piste. At the end of the day, these are non-fiction books. Children should be able to read them and then match them with their own outdoor explorations.”

With little time to research before starting her creative process, Durley relied on reference imagery from her art director and the books’ author Elizabeth Jenner to make sure her plants and animals were true to life. The illustrator could then focus on crafting the feel of each season into the books. Starting with sketches, Durley cuts all the shapes out in paper, scans them in with other textures and hand-drawn elements, then lays out the compositions in Photoshop. “After this, it’s the fun part!” she says. “I get to build the illustration back up, like a layered jigsaw.” The final works are packed with vibrant colour, detail and energy, perfectly conveying the childlike excitement of looking a little closer at our natural environment.

The What To Look For In Spring / Summer / Autumn / Winter series is published today (21 January) by Ladybird Books. A further five titles in the series (Trees, Sea Creatures, Baby Animals, Animal Habitats and Insects & Minibeasts) will be published in May 2021.

GalleryNatasha Durley and Elizabeth Jenner: What To Look For series (Copyright © Ladybird Books, 2021)

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Natasha Durley and Elizabeth Jenner: What To Look For In Winter cover (Copyright © Ladybird Books, 2021)

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

After five years as It’s Nice That’s news editor, Jenny became online editor in June 2021, now overseeing the website’s daily editorial output. Contact her with stories, pitches and tips relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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