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Annual: a literary miscellany, a cornucopia, a delight

November 9th, 2016, By Jeannie Skinner
Cartoon showing various miscellaneous items such as photographs, gloves and posters.
“It’s a Christmas stocking stuffed to overflowing with rich presents for the curious. It’s a steaming plum pudding full of plums, raisins, nuts, cherries, and bright sixpences. I didn’t just read the Annual, I ate it.” - Jack Lasenby. All rights reserved

Like Mary Poppins’ magical carpet bag, this Gecko Press Annual, edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris, is a virtual bag of tricks — you can open the pages and discover, seemingly endlessly, one surprising delight after another.

Inspiration struck Kate as she was out running one windy Wellington day, legs working, brain working — one thought leading to another as she pounded the paths: What are the outlets for new writers to get published? Where are the curated anthologies and story collections nowadays? Where do literate young pre-teen readers find reflective or quirky fiction? What could be created to showcase a diversity of forms and genres, a wide range of authors and illustrators… and then the AHA moment — the answer was an ANNUAL!

Putting it together

At the IBBY Congress Kate related how she raced home, the idea taking shape with every step — how to commission pieces, what an annual might contain, how it would be different to anything currently on the market, how it could include established writers and new writers, pages full of NZ flavour — paddock, punga and pukeko — and the highest quality aesthetic design and illustration. Kate knew just the publisher to pitch her idea to — Julia Marshall at Gecko Press who publish 'curiously good books'. The response was enthusiastic and from their first brainstorming session together the words they came up to describe this new book were: anarchy, fun, intelligence, challenge, contemporary.

So the adventure began as Kate, along with Susan Paris, who has 15-years’ experience in publishing and 9 years as editor of the School Journal, commissioned 40+ authors and illustrators to create contributions for the Annual including fiction, comics, poetry, essays, how-to’s, art, games, satire, and a film script, and here it is, all packed into a jewel box of vibrant orange and gold.

All rights reserved

For those of us of a certain age, the word 'annual' may conjure up memories of those British annuals of our young teen years, memories coloured with considerable affection in spite of what we can now see as their gendered and occasionally dubious values. They were books of their time with their heydays in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Those annuals contained a mix of stories, comic strips, games and puzzles, ideas for make and do, recipes and quizzes. Kate mentioned that somehow whenever you opened them, even if you’d read it before, you always seemed to notice something new you hadn’t seen. I remembered having that same feeling then, and have had a similar experience as I’ve shared this 2016 Annual at school library network meetings this term, each time landing upon a different page to promote or highlight.

"It’s a Christmas stocking stuffed to overflowing with rich presents for the curious. It’s a steaming plum pudding full of plums, raisins, nuts, cherries, and bright sixpences. I didn’t just read the Annual, I ate it". - Jack Lasenby

Presents for the curious

I love reading aloud the final paragraph of Dylan Owen’s short article, Bleeders, which accompanies the historic photograph of kauri gum climbers in the early 1900s — that penultimate sentence always elicits gasps of surprise, horror, laughter, and amazement.

Kate Camp’s poem Looking for Saner Climates is wonderful in itself — recognisable highs and lows through the seasons and what the weather throws at us, but it comes with a puzzle — an anagram in the title, a clue in the illustration, a hunt through the text — layers upon layers of discovery and enjoyment. I love James Brown’s 'found poem' too — Lost items, inspired by real lines from school newsletters:

“I have ordered good weather, but if necessary we can make chutney in the prefab.”

The politically incorrect, affectionate, only-in-New-Zealand story Honky by Ben Brown made me laugh, Bernard Beckett’s celebration of maths, logic (and inspirational teachers) in Let me count the ways made me think, and Joanna Orwin’s story Seeds set in 1875 Christchurch was poignant — especially the mention of the Cathedral 'just beginning to progress beyond its foundation'.

The comic format double page Contents illustration by Dylan Horrocks is a work of art in itself (one librarian rather subversively suggested copying it to make a dust jacket for the book and draw children’s attention to the variety contained inside, but others thought it would be a crime to cover the orange and gold). Another of Dylan’s contributions, the Naked Grandma board game is hilarious — I think there are the bones of a very entertaining young novel waiting to be written right there!

A spring tradition

It’s promising to hear that the Annual will live up to its name and, hopefully, become an annual delight, published in spring each year to become part of a family tradition — creating a collection that is added to each year and passed down through generations. I can just see them all, lined up on shelves, perhaps with each year’s cover a different colour like the Andrew Lang Fairy Books (12 collections of fairy tales from around the world, published between 1889 and 1913 — starting with Blue, Red, Green, through to Olive and Lilac).

For more information about the Annual’s authors and illustrators, about annuals generally and the back story of this book, and even downloads of some pages (games, colouring, puzzles etc) visit the book’s own website, AnnualAnnual.

For the confident solo reader, aged around 9–12, who enjoys varied and nuanced fiction, who has an eye and an ear for the whimsical or absurd, who is up for the unexpected and is happy to browse, linger and settle, each time dipping in and discovering something new, this will be a book to explore, savour and re-visit.

Add it to your school library, your Christmas or birthday shopping list, school prize-giving choices, and family bookshelves.

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