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Honour for Thomas the Tank Engine illustrator

Green plaque at John Kenney's former Kibworth home

Thomas the Tank Engine illustrator John Kenney

A Leicestershire artist who created the illustrations for six Thomas the Tank Engine books and more than 30 Ladybird titles is to be honoured with a green plaque by Leicestershire County Council.

John T Kenney was born in 1911 and trained at the Leicester College of Art.  Between 1957 and 1962, he illustrated six books in the Rev W Awdry’s Railway Series – better known as the Thomas the Tank Engine books.

His art also became known across the world due to his work with Loughborough-based publisher Ladybird Books, as he illustrated a total of 31 titles between 1954 and 1972 – the majority of them focusing on important historical figures.

Mr Kenney, and his wife, Peggy, lived in Kibworth Beauchamp between 1949 and 1958. He died at Smeeton Westerby in 1972 at the age of 61. On Thursday, 13 June, he is to be honoured with the unveiling of a green plaque at the site of his former home in Kibworth.

Stephen Butt, who nominated Mr Kenney for the award, said: “I am delighted that John Kenney is to be recognised and honoured by the village he made his home. There are many people in Kibworth who remember John and Peggy, and countless millions around the world of all ages who have enjoyed his illustrations.

“John Kenney and Clarence Reginald Dalby, the two artists who created Thomas the Tank Engine, as we know him today, were both graduates of the Leicester School of Art. They both served their country during WWII, and they had strong associations with Kibworth.

"John lived in Kibworth and Clarence created the polar bear logo for Fox's Glacier Mints - the Fox family lived in Kibworth. Every community has its special people. It's just lovely that we in Kibworth have John Kenney who entranced generations of young readers with his illustrations."

Generations of children grew up with the Thomas the Tank Engine and Ladybird books and their beautiful illustrations are instantly recognised around the world. John Kenney was an extremely popular choice among the people of Leicestershire to receive a green plaque and I will be delighted to be involved in its unveiling.

More information on the green plaque scheme can be found by visiting

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