Barter Books is a bit of bibliophile heaven. I picked up a good-as-new hardback of Philip Hensher’s ‘The Missing Ink – the lost art of handwriting’, and four lovely old Ladybird books, including ‘Julius Caesar and Roman Britain’ still with the dust-jacket. It’s just like the copy I had as a child. (What happened to my old Ladybird books? Where did they go?) I had a big collection and I loved them, especially the history ones. ‘Julius Caesar and Roman Britain’ is one of the best. Fantastic illustrations, full of story and action. I remember poring over the picture of Boadicea on her chariot and thinking: Yes! That’s my kind of heroine!
There weren’t many strong female role-models in children’s books in the 1970s. There weren’t many female role-models at all. The Ladybird ‘Builders’ I brought home for my son today doesn’t have a single woman in it. All the professions and trades from architect to decorator are men. ‘Women do all these jobs too,’ I told him. Ladybird had a profound influence on the young bookworms of my generation. Come to think of it, the Ladybird story of Elizabeth Fry must have been the first time I heard of Quakers. From warrior queen to prison reformer, I ran the role-model gamut of great British women leaders. I’m now on the look out for a copy of Elizabeth I. Still clear in my mind is the jacket illustration of her famous speech at Tilbury: ‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king – and a king of England too!’