The school holidays have arrived. Dan and Junior Reader are off to see an exhibition before it finishes. The house has wrapped itself in that special weekend quiet that ensues when only one of you is home.
So it seems fair enough to tackle a mammoth topic of my own here, and write about annuals.
Annuals seem to hold a disproportionately large place of importance in the world of children’s books. (Maybe it’s the size, the fact that they’re hardbacks.) Not just in Junior Reader’s world, but mine too.
Annuals are inexorably tied to Christmas and the New Year; to sources of presents, and the opportunity to sell a book with the next year’s date on it.
And yet. Annuals are much more than that. They are the charting of how old you are, as the years go on; a solid ground for your memories of being a certain age.
You might forget which year a certain Blue Peter presenter did what – an annual will confirm it for you.
You may forget what Rupert Bear was up to at a given time: the story may not thrill you now, but the memory of your granny, knowing your tastes, picking it out for you, will.
One year we parcelled up my Rupert Bear annuals, and some other books, and took them to Hay-on-Wye, the book mecca that is not just about a yearly festival, but about the serious buying and selling of books too.
This is the kind of place you can go to flog your collectables. There is of course eBay, too, but that wasn’t around in my late teens, so you took your books along to see what you could get for them.
Annuals have a funny fluctuating value about them. A year or two passes, and you may be less taken with the contents of a given Star Wars annual.
It’s at that point that they join the great melting pot of the second-hand bookshops, and typically the point at which you pick up a couple for your junior reader.
These kind of books are the ones you squirrel away for days off school, when an invalid only wants to have short things read. Where you can play very quick board games (for, gentle reader, annuals are a good source of board games).
Annuals are a way to pour over the details of given films or cartoons (Wallace and Gromit, for example; and any number of children’s TV characters).
There is the Guinness Book of World Records for when your fact finding goes up a notch, but on the ‘I like this and I want to enjoy it again and know a bit more about it too’, annuals will do you just fine.
Annuals are of course the place to meet and rediscover characters from weekly comics: The Beano, Dandy, and so on. Probably the most read annuals in Junior Reader’s collection are of this type.
(I had a similar phase, borrowing ancient Beryl the Peril annuals from a family friend. Dan kindly bought me one of my own, a few birthdays back.)
Annuals seem to fulfil a function that is similar to bottles of wine for adults. You might take one along to a party. You might be given one another time. All of a sudden, you have a kind of flexible currency.
(You might of course drink them too, and this is equally acceptable.)
Annuals, in a similar way, can sit upon your shelf for a certain time. You might look at the ‘makes’, maybe even ransom your mother for enough egg boxes to consider trying one.
(You don’t, however, follow through. I’m not sure I’ve come across someone who actually went through with making something out of an annual, even if the ideas seem wildly attractive at the time of reading.)
After some time, possibly some drawing on them in felt tip, or filling in a few clues before losing interest, the annual has completed its shelf life with you.
The next book sale, the next school fair, out it goes, moving on to a succession of other children’s book shelves (and bedroom floors).
Until, perhaps, over time, it resurfaces, and meets the right kind of owner: the one whose year of birth matches the annual’s own. Or a portion of their past. One who appreciates the vintage.
Kids don’t necessarily get to see this part. (Not all adults own up to liking annuals, or even owning a few which are clearly ‘theirs’). But in time, they will come to recognise the power of multiple re-reads; the ability to conjure up where you were at a given time in life.
Other books can give you this too. But annuals, like certain photos, date stamp your experiences.
We have a certain Action Man annual in our collection. I can vividly remember reading this aloud on a certain holiday; spinning out the stories to Junior Reader, seeing the growing awareness of action hero cracks certain type of joke.
Now Junior Reader can tackle Action Man solo. (Unlike Dr X, who always seems to need backup.) Whether it will remain one of those time-seared memories or not – we will simply have to wait and see.
But in the ‘ten minutes before teatime’ slot, many an annual helps out when you are peckish for something to do. And long may it continue.