Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A Celebration of Christmas Annuals by Dawn Finch

It's a shorter post this month from me as the year has run away with me again and I'm determined to get everything done before 2017 arrives. This also means cramming in Christmas shopping. I was in a shop the other day and I heard two mothers talking about how Christmas annuals were "garbage" books. They both seemed annoyed that people so often give them to children. 

As you know, nothing gets me more annoyed than adults making sweeping negative book decisions for their children, and it started me thinking about how much I loved getting an annual when I was a child. I flicked through the comic Christmas annuals and was pleased to see that they are almost exactly the same as when I was a child.

When I was a very small person, the arrival of the Christmas Annual on the shelves of the paper shop was the first hint that Christmas was on its way. Long before the tinsel went up, the glossy covers of the Christmas annuals were grinning at me from the shelf above the grey universe of the newspapers. These were the books that kept me going over Christmas. When the adult world of Christmas closed in and drowned all concentration – these dip-in books were a marvel (pun intended). They were the hand-held games of their day and you could sneak off, find a spot to sit, and dip into comic adventures, short stories, puzzles, jokes, and things to make and do.

I have a particularly poignant relationship with them however, as I was blessed with an aunt who knew the value of money. This meant that most of my annuals were bought from jumble sales. There really is nothing more depressing than to spend a week looking at that A4 sized parcel under the tree wishing for the 1977 Monster Fun annual, but knowing it’s probably the 1973 Hotspur for Boys with all the dot-to-dots already done.

As a festive post I wanted to share a few of the annuals that gave me many festive quiet moments and escapes. So here’s to the Christmas annual. A much maligned and dismissed item, but something that for many was one of the first books they ever owned. A book that defied technology and sneakily kept reading at the heart of the season. I, for one, am glad they've survived.

Footnote - I did get the Monster Fun one, but had to wait for my dad to finish reading it first.
It was worth the wait.

Post by Dawn Finch
Children's Writer and Librarian


Ms. Yingling said...

Interestingly, both my mother and my father had imported British Christmas annuals from about 1938. I still have them, crumbling in a drawer somewhere. I read them a lot in the 1970s but had no idea what they were or how they came to be in small, rural US communities. I would have loved having more of these as a child, and I can imagine they are still very popular, although perhaps less so than they were, since children seem not to read the newspaper anymore, even for the comics!

Susan Price said...

Dawn, you are so right! Dismissing comics and annuals - or any other reading which children enjoy - is so narrow. In my family, we used to have in-depth discussions about the Beano with my father, who had bought the very first issue. He frankly enjoyed it while, at the same time, reading thick books on ecology and astronomy. He wasn't, in any sense, narrow.

We also learned a lot about drawing from comics, where the standard of art was often very high. And, as someone said, we all need good-bad books and even bad books - none of us can read at the highest level of art and philosophy all the bleeding time.

And I feel for you, getting an out of date annual with all the puzzles already done! How could your aunt? Almost better no present than that. Or socks.

Sue Purkiss said...

I used to be given an annual every Christmas - loved them! And I picked up all sorts of bits of knowledge from them, specially about history. Thanks for this reminder!

Penny Dolan said...

Lots of fun! I remember that comics and annuals weren't approved when I was little, though I don't know which of my parents - or both? - had decided that such things weren't suitable - along with Saturday morning cinema. One of the reasons why a holiday with my cousin was wildly enjoyable.

Dawn Finch said...

The thing that I most love about annuals is that they really are often the first book that a child actually owns. Lots of my friends have said that it was the first book they remembered owning and that is something that we should be celebrating. The format was always fun with lots of factual things, comics, jokes, stories, puzzles and activities. What a brilliant gift for any child!