When I was a kid we had 'annuals' on our bookcase shelves in our cribs and holiday houses. Normally they were Girl's Own or Boy's Own or The Scout Annual. If you were really lucky you might get an old Andy Capp comic strip collection' or perhaps a Footrot Flats collection. I spent hours pouring over these. A real treat was a Christmas present from someone with connections to the Mother Country who bought me that year's Wizzer and Chips Annual or Buster. The Beano was considered to risque and possibly too dodgy, too. ' Whatever the case, all of these were a collection of that year's work, with special emphasis on new or unreleased pieces or stories designed especially for the Christmas season. Each Boy's Own or Girl's Own featured adventure stories, stories of bravery, some history and contemporary reference, activities and so on. They were great. As a kid they were really the internet in one book! Ok - so that's never going to happen again. Times have changed. But the idea of compiling as much variety into one book is still appealing. And that's just what Gecko Press have done with Annual.
Mind you, as a parent I was a little reluctant to let my 7 year old put her greasy paws all over this wonderfully compiled collect. Even the end papers, decorated by cartoonist Dylan Horrocks, are a work of art. Gecko have long produced wonderful, thought provoking books tat are more artifacts than consumer items and this one is no exception.
It all starts with The Tailor's Tale by Renata Hopkins, a short story about a girl, her grandfather and a 'treasure they made from things he stole'. This is a wonderfully provocative little tale in that tradition of Storytime on RNZ Saturday Mornings. It treats the reader with real care, engaging them with respect and teasing them to read on to completion. Fear of missing out lurks under the surface.
The next piece is one by Horrocks. A bit of a twist on the old 'spot the difference'. This one has two diversely different bedrooms, with the challenge: Spot the similarities. Some are literal. Some are referential or metaphoric. Either way kids will love comparing the two fully illustrated pages. Parents will enjoy comparing the clean with the messy room and using it as an example of good house keeping. Back off, parents. These kids are on holiday!
Tim Upperton offers us a little 'alternative' poetry with Kill List. He wickedly writes about the secret plans to knock off the chimpanzees. It's a funny and beautifully 'un-PC' take. Deliciously, it challenges kid's own moral sensibilities in a world where such things cannot exist anymore. He kidding, of course. But they know they are being manipulated and love it!
Jonathan King's cartoon Holiday is a classic bit of Kiwi comic strip, the kind of thing that hides in school journals. It starts all positive and clean but soon wanders into X-Files land pretty quickly.
There are some dd 'adult' moments. Such as the inclusion of a illustration of Tony Fomison's The Ponsonby Madonna, which sits opposite Catharina van Bohemen's description of the painting (Mother and Son). This is an attempt to bring adult ideas into a child's world. It may appeal to the more 'bookish' kids but some how I feel this is just a bit too intellectual for this kind of publication.
Whiti Hereaka's story Stargazing is a nice touch and the illustrations by Rebecca Ter Borg bring his coming of age story to life subtly. My 7 year old got some real insights out of this one, perhaps without really grasping everything. But that time will come.
Kate Camp gives us a poem about the 'Bloody Weather', accompanied by the most obvious choice cor reproduction Richard Warnock's illustration of birds and animals in a beautifully rendered black and white illustration.
In all those old Boys Own there was always a story about a real person. Some hero of science or politics. Bernard Becket weaves mathematicians like Hungarian-American John Von Neuman, German Carl Gauss and American cosmologist Carl Sagan into his story Let Me Count The Ways, accompanied by some very stylish (Boy's Own) illustrations of the period. Boy did I learn a lot about the contribution of math (my worst subject at school) to the world!
Like all good annuals there's plenty of crafts. We learn how to make own 8 page book, how to recognize plants (Seeds - Joanna Orwin), and how to make dolls and rockets out of plastic bottles.
For those with a mobile phone (and who doesn't have one) Jo Randerson's written a short film script for five players - Tahi, Toru, Rua Mum and Stick Monster (don't ask).
There's a bit for teenage girls from Steve Braunias call Selfies, a satire piece involving Richie McCaw, John Key, Lorde and Taylor Swift. What would it be like if Richie was a substitute teacher; John was the lawn mower guy; Lorde did the dishes: or Taylor did the washing up? What if a zombie (not John Key) turned up for lunch, or if the whole lot turned up at a birthday party? This was definitely the nuttiest piece. I'm not sure it works though. A bit contrite? My 14 year old thought it was a bit lame? "John Key, Dad. Really?" True. Shouldn't One Direction be there? ("Seriously, Day. So last 5 minutes!")
Spray Can Renaissance was an interesting addition, incorporating an article and story about new street art popping up on Christchurch buildings.
For Boys, Damien Wilkins writes a story about softball and Sally Bollinger rewrites the Hansel and Gretal story in a rather twisted cartoon. There's also a very cool treasure map. Have a look below:
Edith Amituanai goes retro with a short piece and photo from 1978 about Pacific tattooing practices - another throwback to earlier annuals.
And then there's Barbara Else's Tingirl and The Crying Time. This is a crazy sci-fi story based on those old novellas that you'd get in the Eagle, perhaps updated for kids of today.
It all finished with the most twisted board game, Naked Grandma, about a rather bizarre holiday programme and various (good and bad) activities along the way from the first day to the end of the hols.
All in all, I'd have to say this is a great collection. All genre encompassing, inclusive, diverse and challenging. A bit intellectual at times - adults get the kids involved in the selection - but overall a really strong timeless collection.