An Illustrated Book Without Which… Ladybird ‘Well Loved Tales’.

This month Sue Rundle-Hughes has chosen the Ladybird 'Well-Loved Tales' series as cherished titles that have influenced her development as an illustrator.

As a child I treasured my ‘Ladybird’ book collection, which I would buy with my pocket money from the bookstall in the market. People have their preferred genre: history, science, nature etc. In my case, my favourite was the Well-Loved Tales, retold by Vera Southgate and mainly illustrated by Eric Winters and Robert Lumley. There are too many books in the series to write about them all, but there are four that spring to mind, which have been particularly inspiring.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff, illustrated by Robert Lumley, was the first of the ‘Well-Loved Tales’ I was introduced to and it has become one of my favourites. This is mainly because I have a soft spot for goats (I would love a pet goat!) but also, I loved how Lumley painted them, how he captured each of their characters, their childlike demeanour as they skip over the bridge once they’ve hoodwinked the troll for example. The alpine scenery in the book is beautiful and contrasts with the ugly troll, who really was frightening to a child, and the illustrations are so detailed and descriptive that we almost don’t need to read the words.

There is a clever illustration of the eldest goat charging the troll, ready to head butt him off the bridge. It’s an interesting perspective as the reader peers at the fierce goat through the troll’s legs, as if he’s coming straight towards us. Different viewpoints add interest to illustrations.

I also enjoyed the humour in Lumley’s The Three Little Pigs. Drawn with anthropomorphised animals in a more cartoon, almost Disney style, Lumley shows small creatures doing fun things in the background while the pigs build their houses. For example, in one illustration, the mice help the third pig build his house of bricks and accidentally bury one of their buddies under the dirt in the process, reminiscent of slapstick comedy.

Another page has two squirrels sawing a branch ready to fall on the wolf’s head, and my favourite are the worms, cutting the unaware wolf’s fishing line with scissors… It made me chuckle. They were superfluous to the story but they added humour and, as a child, I loved to spy out funny detail. I love it when illustrators do this and I try to incorporate it in my illustrations too, by including a fun element that isn’t immediately noticed.

The thing I liked most in ‘Well Beloved Tales’ in addition to the detail, were the historical elements, and most of all the costumes… I was a sucker for pretty clothes. You can probably guess then that Cinderella was another of my favourites, with her beautiful gowns. I was reminded of this book a couple of years ago, when I was asked to illustrate Cinderella (I was a tad excited about this) and I went straight away to find it.

Eric Winter illustrated Ladybird’s Cinderella and I particularly admire the way he depicts the fabrics of the different dresses: the iridescent of the blue satin (his portrayal of satin is so realistic, you can almost feel its smooth and shiny surface), the softness of the pink silk gown, and the floaty lace in the gold dress. I love fabric, and even as a child I’d try to emulate the drape and the texture and the feel of it in my drawings, not very well, I hasten to add, although a good way to improve your drawing skills is to copy artists you admire. I used to spend many hours sketching the illustrations from the Ladybird books, particularly the ones from Cinderella. If you asked me as a child what I loved to draw most, I would have replied drawing people and their clothes, the different styles and the history fascinated me, and I even used to make paper dolls so I could design whacky clothes for them.

When I was commissioned to illustrate Cinderella, I was inspired by Eric Winter’s eighteenth-century style dresses in his illustrations. I made Cinderella’s first ball gown gold and blush, with lace and garlands of roses, and the second, a sparkly, bejeweled pink.

© Sue Rundle-Hughes

The roses festooned on the dress were influenced by the roses from the beast’s garden in The Beauty and the Beast, again illustrated by Winter. When I was a child, I was fascinated with drawing roses after seeing these pictures. I remember trying to copy them but I found roses difficult to draw, so I would sketch them over and over again, trying to get it right. Again, the detail in The Beauty and the Beast illustrations captured my imagination: the beautiful gardens, the rich embroidery on the men’s eighteenth-century clothes, and the detail and realism of the rococo style furniture.

As you have probably noticed, I mentioned clothes in the illustrations quite a bit. There is a reason for this, as it was this love, sparked by the Ladybird books that inspired me to study theatrical costume design when I left school, which subsequently led on to illustration. I also find my interest in costume has come in handy with commissions, you can tell a lot about the character through what they are wearing, and I was told I was chosen to illustrate Cinderella because of my costume background. I still squeal excitedly if someone asks me to illustrate a story that requires costume design and I thank ‘Ladybird’ for encouraging me down the path I took.

(All images © Penguin Books / estate of the artists)


Do you have a book on your shelf that inspired you as an illustrator?
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Sue Rundle-Hughes is an artist and illustrator, aspiring children’s book writer, tea drinker and is mad about dogs. 


  1. I loved these books, and had pretty much forgotten about them. Thanks for reminding me :)

  2. God yes, those Cinderella dresses! I pored over them for hours; so realistic. And I was terrified by the troll under the bridge, partly because he's not completely visible. Thanks for this, Sue Rundle-Hughes;it's reminded me of the power of brilliant illustrations beyond picture-book age.

  3. Hey! I feel myself like in the childhood. I've even forgot how wonderful dresses Cinderella wears. I'm a writer at [url=""][/url]and sometimes it's very important for me to remind about fairy tales and child psychology as often I should write for children.

  4. Ha! I had forgotten how much i adored those Cinderella dresses too. I found this page while searching for a picture of the silky grey-green dress in the Princess & the Pea as a friend had just bought a skirt in that colour, which you rarely see. :-)

  5. I loved all these fairy tales and the illustrations as a child. My favourite Cinderella dress was the blue one and my overall favourite stories were Rumplestiltskin and Piggly Plays Truant. As an adult I have started collecting them.


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