This December we want to share an insight into the annuals we have in the Seven Stories Collection. Whilst at first you may think they’re just those typical Christmas presents everyone gets as a child, we want to tell you why they offer so much more.  

Often thought of as ephemeral, annuals offer a very useful window into the world they come from. Our substantial collection of 730 annuals was donated by Victor Watson, who taught children’s literature at Homerton College, Cambridge University and is a long standing supporter, and advisor to Seven Stories.

The oldest annual in the Collection is a copy of Routledge’s Every Girl’s Annual estimated at dating all the way back to 1879. Typical of its time, the book is very text heavy showing the level of education the type of child who would receive an annual at Christmas had. Whilst this is the first of Routledge’s Every Girl’s Annual, the preface refers to a boy’s annual which had been running for the previous 17 years. The split in genders for annuals further demonstrates the society in which it was written where boys and girls did not receive the same children’s books when it came to Christmas books. With reference to needlework and sewing, the annual reflects the ideals expected of a little girl in 1879 and describes it as being for “every girl” – “merry, grave, studious and working girls” should all enjoy this annual according to its introduction.

 

In the mid-twentieth century annuals had moved on a bit and whilst more fun and colourful they were also still text heavy. Throughout the 1970s, with the addition of television and changing attitudes towards the expectations of children’s reading levels the appearance of more and more informal annuals began to appear. From Buffalo Bill to Puffin’s Pleasure, the mid-twentieth century marks a significant change in the style of annuals given at Christmastime. Take the BBC annuals as an example of the merging world of children’s annuals and popular TV.

     

Many familiar names in the children’s book world can be found in the pages of annuals. Take the below 1976 Blue Peter annual for example. A very famous bear by the name of Paddington often made an appearance. In this particular year Paddington goes to the BBC and ends up being a contestant on the quiz show, Sage of Britain with a specialist subject of marmalade sandwiches. Michael Bond’s charming stories in the Blue Peter annuals show the crossover between popular TV and children’s books, bringing together different worlds for young readers. 

  

And so spanning from 1879 to modern day the annuals held in the collection are a great way of exploring changes in British society. The nostalgia associated with different time periods and the shifts in the style, artwork and content are a great method of exploring how children’s books and attitudes towards children’s reading have changed over the years.   

Without Victor’s extensive collection of annuals we would not be able to explore the many ways that Children’s books reflect the society they were made in. So when you open an annual this Christmas why not think about the way it reflects British children’s books and life in general in 2018.