Tag Archives: children’s annuals

It Takes Allsorts, Maybe: Literary Annuals and Who Belongs

I’ve been back at Seven Stories, the National Centre for the Children’s Book, over the past few weeks doing some work with digital archiving and preparing for a symposium on diversity for November.  It’s impossible to be at Seven Stories without being distracted by the Aladdin’s Cave of material there, and while looking for something else I found myself in the collection of annuals donated by the children’s author and children’s literature critic, Victor Watson.  I love old annuals; the time capsule of binding up the “best” of a magazine’s year and the often-unlikely hodge-podge of comics, stories, puzzles and pictures fascinates both the historian and the philologist in me.  When faced with the hundreds of annuals donated by Watson, I knew I had to get out of the stacks quickly, before I disappeared for days in their pages and possibly got squished by the movable shelving when the Seven Stories staff forgot I was there (a fitting, but bitter end for a children’s literature academic).

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The first volume of Thwaite’s Allsorts, an annual supposedly filled with “real” writing. Cover by Jenny Williams.

So, seeing a small run of annuals at the very beginning of the very first shelf, I decided I would just look at those, and I took the seven volumes of Allsorts back to my desk. Allsorts, it turns out, was not your ordinary annual.  The editor was no Fleet Street hack but Ann Thwaite, the biographer of children’s authors A. A. Milne and Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Thwaite got the idea for the annuals when she was living in Libya and, according to the book jacket for the second volume, “found it difficult to obtain books for her children other than the annuals which she (and her children) found lacking in nourishment. ‘Why shouldn’t there be an annual containing some real writing?’ she argued” (back book jacket flap).

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Thwaite’s Annuals appeared about the same time as the Puffin Annuals, which also aimed at a middle-class white audience.

I have to confess I almost put them back right then.  Having spent a year researching publishers and editors, many of whom had somewhat rose-coloured ideas about children and the middle class lifestyle in which all those children apparently lived, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what Thwaite saw as “real” writing.  (I also wanted to interview her kids to see if they would REALLY agree with their jacket flap’s parenthetical reference to them.) It is interesting to compare these to the Puffin annuals, which came out about the same time; both have a decidedly middle-class audience in mind, and both are very clearly aimed at a white British audience.

As annuals, Allsorts are very wordy; there are a couple of comics in the first one (by David Hornsby—who is not listed as one of the “writers” in the back) but these have gone by Allsorts 3.  They include writers like Catherine Storr, Penelope Farmer and Joan Aiken.  They are pitched at 8-year-olds; I say this because there is a regular feature, “The Year I was Eight,” where authors write about their own experiences of being eight.  This is one of the few times that racial diversity is present in the annuals; in Allsorts 1, the very first of these is by Edward Lucie-Smith, the Jamaican-born poet who brought poets Brian Patten, Adrian Henri, and Roger McGough to prominence in The Liverpool Scene.  Lucie-Smith is white, but he describes Black Jamaicans: “The back yard and the back of the house were also the domain of the servants.  We weren’t very rich, but coloured servants were cheap and we had three living in: my nurse, a fat cook, and a thin parlour-maid” (19).  These servants are never given names, and are described right after the animals who live in Lucie-Smith’s house.  Similarly, after being sent to boarding school, Lucie-Smith writes that “On Sundays the roads around [the school] were full of country people going to church –black faces, and stiffly starched white or pink dresses amid the greenery” (23).  The Black Jamaicans become part of Lucie-Smith’s scenery, no different from the flora and fauna.  His story is followed by two more “The Year I was Eight” stories, one by Zulfikar Ghose, from Bombay, and one by Peter Porter, from Australia.  The rest of these stories in the other volumes are all by white and mostly English authors (including Penelope Farmer and Ann Thwaite herself).

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Sleeping with the enemy: Plucky British schoolgirls take being hijacked in their stride. Glenys Ambrus illustrated “Hijacked.”

The remaining volumes carry on in fairly similar fashion.  Number 2 (1969) has a story called “The Sounds of Cricket” by Zulfikar Ghose about cricket in Pakistan, and that’s about it.  Allsorts 4 has the most curious story, “Hijacked” written by 2 of the 31 children who were hijacked and held as hostages in Jordan by the PLO in 1970.  The illustrations, by Glenys (wife of Victor) Ambrus, are very scary—people in Arabic dress with guns standing over white children in school uniforms.  If this story had been published a hundred years earlier in Girls Own Paper, it likely would have involved the words “plucky British schoolgirls”—but then, Girls Own may or may not have been classified as “real writing.”

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C is for Cannibal with a bone through his hair in Allsorts 5.

Edward Lucie-Smith tells an Anansi story in play form in Allsorts 5, which although not written in patois (as the Black Jamaican poet Louise Bennett was already doing by this time) at least was not written in a white person’s IDEA of patois.  It seems like a progressive step, but this volume also has a puzzle picture, illustrated by Linda Birch, that includes a cannibal with a bone through his hair.

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There are slight changes to Allsorts by the time it gets to volume 7–including one Black British girl playing basketball, way in the back of the cover.

The cover to Allsorts 6 (1973) is the first to have any non-white children on it, and includes a story (with recipe!) called “Chitra Makes a Curry” written by Ursula Sharma and illustrated by Felicity Bartlett, and also “The Year I Was Seven: Stepmothers in Hong Kong” is by Man Wah Leung and illustrated by Sally Kindberg.  Allsorts 7 (1974), which also has a multiracial cover (the covers are all by Jenny Williams) has a story called “Tell Me Truth” by Janet Hitchman and illustrated by Alexy Pendle, which I think is about the expulsion of Ugandan Asians in the 1970s, but there’s no clear information, so, like the child-authored “Hijacked” in volume 4, the story comes across as some kind of vague refugee adventure in which the white British (of course) are the heroes: at one point, the main character’s father says, “it was no wonder the English had conquered the world: such suffering [of having a cold] made them all heroes without even trying!” (150).  This line, clearly meant to be taken ironically by the (white?) readers, nonetheless reinforces the ideas that A) England DID conquer the world and B) the people of the (formerly) colonized world see this as quite reasonable.   Allsorts may have been more “literary” than, say, the Enid Blyton annuals coming out at the time, but at the end of the day, these annuals continued to reproduce white privilege.  All sorts are allowed to be a part of children’s literature—as long as they are “our” sort of all sorts.

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Let None Tell Me the Past is Wholly Gone: Aborigines and Children’s Literature

The children’s publisher Puffin was, in the 1960s and 1970s, a fabulous success. Part of the reason for this success was its excellent marketing, which was aimed squarely at middle-class, white British children and their parents. The firm encouraged reading by having a book club, whose slogan was There’s Nuffin Like a Puffin (there is a song that goes with this; you can find versions of it on YouTube, but I warn you: you will have it in your head all day); they published a magazine and an annual that gathered together stories and artwork from some of the finest (mostly British) writers and illustrators of the time.

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Puffin reached its readers through books, magazines, annuals, and even songs and outings.

While paging through the 1975 Puffin Annual (part of Seven Stories’ Kaye Webb collection), I came across an unusual picture that made me pause. The picture is unusual because it is not of white people. There are very few non-whites in the Puffin Post or Annual, although the books published by Puffin do slightly better at producing visual diversity. The picture is a photograph (by Axel Poignant), not a drawing, and shows two naked children (from the back) walking on a beach. It is not immediately clear from the picture the ethnic origin of the children. The photograph is accompanied by a poem, “The Past” by Kath Walker. The poem’s speaker begins by saying, “Let no one say the past is dead” and then goes on to contrast “tribal memories” with an “easy chair before electric heater” in “suburbia”. Presumably the tribe of the poem is somehow connected with the photographed children, but there is no further explanatory information on the double-page spread. These children do not appear to have lives that suggest even a need for electric heaters, so the placement of photograph and poem side-by-side position them as the past that is not dead, but are they representations of a past that IS past, but remembered? Or a past way of existing that still carries on today?

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Whose past?  Whose present? Kath Walker’s poem next to Axel Poignant’s photo.

If one is a highly-skilled reader—which of course all Puffin Club Members were—it is possible to find a clue toward the answer to this question by turning the page. The next story (also with photographs by Axel Poignant, written by Roslyn Poignant) is “A Story of the First Australians.” This piece discusses the lives of contemporary Aborigines, and like many articles about non-Europeans, it walks the line between celebrating the culture and reinforcing imperial stereotypes about “natives” as something vaguely sub-human. For example, the encounter between Europeans and Aborigines is described like this: “When the Europeans first came, 200 years ago, they built their cities along the coasts, turned grasslands into sheep pastures and wheatfields, and scrublands into cattle runs, and they paid scant attention to the black people they found already living there, and so their numbers were greatly reduced” (61). Leaving aside the convoluted nature of this sentence (which seems to suggest that it is the Europeans whose numbers were greatly reduced), the sentence makes European colonization a benign event. It also implies that a lack of European attention will cause a group of people to begin to become extinct. If this were true, I would argue that only Europeans would be left on the planet today.

 

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The Poignants’ article ignores the brutality of colonialism on the Aborigines; the colonizers here are merely indifferent.

Reading through the article itself, you would discover that Kath Walker—the author of the poem that precedes the article—is an Aborigine herself. She was in fact, by the time of the annual’s publication, quite a well-known poet, but part of her poetic fame derived from the fact that she was Aboriginal. She was the first Aborigine to have her poetry published in book form in Australia, though many questioned whether an Aboriginal could write poetry and suggested it was ghostwritten. Walker not only faced her critics, she was crucial in lobbying for citizenship rights of Aboriginals. She also had an MBE, granted in 1970 (which she returned in 1987 in protest against the Australian bicentenary celebrations). None of this information is present in the article or accompanying the poem, and yet it is crucial for understanding how her political views came out in her poetry. Knowing these facts about Walker would, however, have made the Poignants’ article an entirely different animal, because it celebrates the primitiveness of the Aborigines and downplays the ways in which Aborigines interact with white society. Walker’s poem validates her Aboriginal history, but also explores the tension between the comfort of modern life and the way that modern life is devoid of spiritual meaning. The speaker wants to preserve the meaning of her past life while knowing that she will have to—and in the electric heater sort of way, wants to—accept some aspects of white society. The article fails to acknowledge this tension. Kath Walker fought for Aboriginal rights throughout her life but her activism could easily have been missed or mistaken by even the most careful Puffin reader.

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And what of the authors of the article itself? Again, the article gives no biographical information, and it is unlikely that the reader would (even if she thought to do so) be able to find anything out about the authors in a pre-internet age. But Roslyn Poignant,continued to have an interest in Aborigines throughout her life. In fact, she published a book about the history of Aboriginal society and its interactions with their Australian colonizers in 2004 entitled Professional Savages: Captive Lives and Western Spectacle. The book discusses the way that Aborigines in the 19th century were often displayed in circus acts, fairs, and museums, and were photographed by anthropologists as examples of human “types”. Let no one tell me the past is wholly gone, indeed.

The Last Golliwog

Lately, I have been on a hunt for the last golliwog to be seen in children’s literature. It’s not an easy task, because every time I think they are gone for good, another one pops up like a creepy jack-in-the-box.

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Upton brought the golliwog to children’s literature in 1895.

It’s somewhat easier to find the first golliwog. Most people agree that the first appearance of the golliwog, named as such, in children’s literature, came in Florence Upton’s 1895 Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg. But the character existed as a children’s toy long before this. Many argue that, based on its dandyish attire of striped pants, jacket, and bow tie, it is a figure tied to the minstrel tradition. Many of the posters from minstrel shows tend to confirm this, especially the ones in which white performers “blacked up” to perform African-American style songs (not all of which were actually African-American—many were imitations or mockeries of songs sung by southern slaves, such as those written by Stephen Foster for the Christy Minstrels). Although minstrelsy was a particularly American song-and-dance form, minstrel shows traveled all over the world, and were popular in England (among other places), where Upton lived. She claimed that the golliwog in her book was based on a doll she had as a child—a doll she thought was “ugly”.

 

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Ha, ha! The minstrel tradition often required white people to “black up” and (as in this case) make their hair look “crazy”.

The book character was popular at a time when the minstrel tradition was fading, and giving way to vaudeville. This is quite a common tradition—once a story or cultural artifact becomes passé with adults, it moves to the nursery to retire. Many folk and fairy tales began as stories for adults, and another minstrel tradition—the song “Ten Little N** Boys”—also moved from stage to children’s literature. Upton’s Golliwogg spawned many similar stories, and huge amounts of marketing as well. Most famously, Robertson’s Jam in the UK used the “golly” as a mascot from 1910; eventually, children could send in jam jar labels in return for golly badges.

 

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This is from a 1930s reading primer in the Bluebird reading series. Golly has on his striped pants and tie–and his crazy hair.

The golliwog figure was popular in children’s comics and picture books, as well as educational materials. Enid Blyton used a golliwog figure in her Toytown/Noddy stories. Golliwogs were especially popular as a toy and character in the UK prior to the end of World War II; after this time, the population in the UK began to change, and a higher percentage of people of African descent (from both African countries and from the Caribbean) began to find racial stereotypes such as the golliwog or the Black and White Minstrel Show (which lasted on the BBC until 1978) offensive and speak up about it.

 

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This was sent in by a reader of the magazine Story Time, in 1966.

But the golliwog did not disappear from children’s literature very quickly. Many children’s books depicted golliwogs incidentally. Whereas early on, golliwogs were given particular, predictable characteristics (mischievous or silly, for example), by the 1970s, golliwogs were just one of many toys depicted in a children’s nursery scene. Indeed, as protests grew louder, some children’s magazines seem to be deliberately insisting on the “normalcy” of the use of the golliwog. Treasure magazine (motto: “It Helps Little Children With Learning”) has stories about the wide, wide world that include people of African descent, but when it comes to stories and pictures about Britain, the entire world is white, even though the magazine was being published in the late 1960s when British Caribbeans would have been a common sight, at least in major urban centres. The only non-white figure I could find in three years (1968-1971—although I didn’t have access to the entire run, I certainly had most of them) of the magazine was one Indian gentleman and his daughter at the bank. The Indian girl has her doll with her—a golliwog.

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When the magazine became World of Wonder in 1971, they did a “historical” piece on the origin of the golliwog, but golliwogs were not entirely historical yet. A few years after this, in 1974, Ruth Ainsworth’s popular Rufty-Tufty stories were reprinted for the fifth time by children’s publisher William Heinemann.

 

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Still making print runs in the 1970s

In the 1980s, the journal Dragon’s Teeth, an anti-racist education journal begun by educational activist Rosemary Stones, mounted a protest against Robertson’s jam and its use of the golliwog image. Although the jam-maker had revised the character in the 1970s, they remained defiant about their right to use the character. The protest was embraced by many educators, but Robertson’s continued to send out golly badges and other paraphernalia until 2001—a move they described as a marketing decision rather than a bow to “political pressure” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/3660193/Robertsons-Jam-to-disappear.html).

 

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Dragons did not, unfortunately, have enough teeth to stop the Robertson’s golly.

Children’s literature seems to have taken the protests more seriously. The golliwog figure did not disappear, but its incidence lessened. And the increasing presence of Afro-Caribbean characters in children’s literature made a difference as well. Some characters even mention the golliwog and its effect on them; Geraldine Kaye’s A Breath of Fresh Air (London: Andre Deutsch, 1987) features a main character who turns the jam jar away so she doesn’t have to look at the golliwog while she is eating her breakfast. Also in the 1980s, Mr. Golly in Blyton’s Noddy books became Mr. Sparks.

The golliwog is a figure that seems anachronistic in today’s Britain—meant as a caricature of a caricature (a doll version of a blacked-up white person), tied to a past of colonialism and slavery, it should perhaps long ago have been relegated to the archive of questionable choices. But I fear that we have yet to see the last golliwog in British children’s literature.

The Wild Kind: Non-White People in Magazines for the Very Young

This week’s blog comes once again out of my work in the Seven Stories Archive in Newcastle. Their book collection includes a wide-ranging and invariably random (as it relies on donations) collection of children’s magazines, from the traditional Boys’ Own Annual and some missionary magazines from the 19th century, to Dandy and The Beano from the 20th century. Although I’ll undoubtedly go back to these magazines at a later point, I spent my research time paging through magazines for younger readers. This is a genre that, even in the mostly-ignored area of children’s magazine studies, is generally left unconsidered. I am guessing this is from a combination of two factors—one, generally magazines for young readers are considered to be too simple and/or bland to be of much research use; and two, unlike their counterparts for older readers, magazines for younger readers are generally colored, cut up for scraps, or torn out of use to the researcher. However, Seven Stories has managed to preserve some of these magazines (not all of them, mind you, without some coloring or missing pictures here and there) and I’m going to look at two British magazines, about forty years apart, designed for the 5-9 age range, Fairyland Tales from the 1920s and Pippin from the 1960s.

Fairyland Tales goes non-stop into the future--with Golly in the most precarious of positions . . .

Fairyland Tales goes non-stop into the future–with Golly in the most precarious of positions . . .

Fairyland Tales, despite its name, did not rely on fairy stories for its content; instead, it was a fairly standard (for the 1920s) mix of short stories, puzzles, poetry and regularly-featured comic strips. Most of the stories were domestic (magazines since the 19th century Chatterbox used stories based in the home, and less often school, for younger readers), but one of the stories, in the 21st February 1925 edition, takes children to colonial Africa. “Jungle Chums” has twins visiting their photographer father who “took pictures of the wild people of the jungle and sent them home” (the pictures, presumably, not the wild people) and the twins are very excited to see, as Bobby the boy twin puts it, “real negroes—the wild kind, I mean; not like the ones we saw at Mombasa dressed in white people’s clothes, and they’ve got great big spears.”

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“Jungle Chums” aligns ideologically with two of the regularly-featured comics in Fairyland Tales that also took children beyond the borders of the home, and indeed beyond the borders of the nation. “Jenny and Jimmy’s Jolly Adventures” detail the travails of two pith-helmeted white English children who are connected with a circus that travels the world. Circus life in and of itself allows the children to encounter the “Other”; their “trainer” (presumably for the animals, rather than Jenny and Jimmy) is an African or Afro-Caribbean named Rastus.

Jenny and Jimmy look on while Rastus and some "Arabs" do the heavy lifting.

Jenny and Jimmy look on while Rastus and some “Arabs” do the heavy lifting.

However, in addition to their own internal Other, Jenny and Jimmy’s travels take them all over the world. They must run from most of these encounters; Chinese sailors try to mutiny Jenny and Jimmy’s ship, and an enraged Sultan imprisons the children when they show the wrong film (the film they showed made fun of the Sultan). Ultimately, the world outside England is full of slightly mad people, but they make life for Jenny and Jimmy jolly, rather than dangerous. The other regular comic feature in Fairyland Tales is the ironically named “Sammy Snowball’s Funny Tricks”—ironic because Sammy Snowball is a black caricature, and also because there are few tricks and they are rarely funny. Given how the white authors treat Sammy Snowball, it is no wonder he complains, in one episode, of being turned a “beastly white”.

No mimic man: Sammy Snowball doesn't like his "beastly white face".

No mimic man: Sammy Snowball doesn’t like his “beastly white face”.

It is surprising, given the imperialistic attitudes of Fairyland Tales, to see how much had changed in just 40 years. Pippin, the other magazine for young readers that I examined, existed in an entirely different world from Fairyland Tales. For one thing, it was a magazine subtitled “the Coloured Picture Weekly for the Very Young Viewer” and published by TV publications limited. Many of the features (I couldn’t tell whether ALL of them) were based around television shows such as Camberwick Green and Trumpton. Like its earlier predecessor, Pippin is largely domestic in its setting, but British life had changed dramatically since the 1920s. An influx of migrants from the Caribbean after World War II had literally changed the face of the UK, and this is reflected in one of the features in Pippin, the serial story of a little boy called “Joe”, the first episode of which I found in the 3rd June 1967 Pippin. Joe’s parents run a truck-stop café, and one of their employees (seemingly their only employee) is a Black British teenager named Abel. Abel is pleasant, enjoys playing with and helping Joe when he’s not acting as grill cook, and drives a motorbike.

Never too busy to help: Joe and Abel have a friendly relationship.

Never too busy to help: Joe and Abel have a friendly relationship.

“Joe” is a generally lovely comic, especially given the dearth of British depictions of Black Britain in white-authored literature for small children at the time. But it is not entirely free from stereotypes either. Abel prefaces nearly every speech he makes with the exclamation, “Man,” as in, “Man, it’s hot.” Nobody else in the comic has a similar verbal tic, suggesting that it is an attempt by the author (who, by the way, is never listed) to mark Abel out as different. It’s not necessarily a bad difference, but it is noticeable. Worse, though, is the “Topsy” episode, where Joe’s mother comes in from a windy day outside with crazy-looking hair, and Joe compares her hair to that of his golliwog doll named Topsy while Abel looks on in the background.

Gone with the Wind: Even progressive comics can slip back into stereotype.

Gone with the Wind: Even progressive comics can slip back into stereotype.

Joe’s mother is “offended” by Joe’s comment, and ties a scarf around her head until she can get to the hairdresser’s. I guess that, even in the more progressive 1960s, white Britons didn’t want to be too closely associated with the “wild kind” of the Other.

Is the Sun Rising Again? The British Empire and Children’s Literature

Last week, I was looking for something for Sunday lunch; I fancied a pie, so I went into the pie aisle at a major grocery store and found . . . Empire Pie. EMPIRE pie? I looked round, wondering if I had been transported back to the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, Empire-themed dishes were quite popular; the Empire Marketing Board made sure of it. But no, I was still in 2015. So it led me to wonder as I ate my Empire Pie (well, it sounded tasty—and, to be fair, it was): Is the British Empire making a comeback? Could I find any evidence in children’s books out now?

Let’s eat the empire, 20th century version.

Let's eat the empire--21st century version.

Let’s eat the empire–21st century version.

There was a time when you could go to a British (or colonial/former colonial) bookstore and find, in the children’s section, multiple volumes with “Empire” in the title. This would range from periodicals like The Empire Annual (there were versions for Boys, Girls, and Youth, depending on the year) to history texts such as H. E. Marshall’s 1908 Our Empire Story to novels by G. A. Henty (With Clive in India: The Beginnings of an Empire was first published in 1884 but was reprinted constantly throughout the beginning of the twentieth century) to ephemeral items such as Animals of the Empire: A 3 Way Tracing, Puzzle and Story Book. All of these texts were designed to prepare young Britishers (as they were once called) to take over the care and keeping of the British Empire from the previous generation. They ranged from the merely informative to propagandistic, but all celebrated the idea of an empire that the British owned.

Once, empire was everywhere.

Once, empire was everywhere.

After World War II, the idea of celebrating Empire had become untenable, even for its most ardent supporters (they switched instead to mourning the good old days and complaining about the changing face of Britain). The Empire Annual became The Commonwealth and Empire Annual in 1952, but even that only lasted a few years. Empire became a semi-fantastic subject for literature, lived out in the pages of Biggles for children and James Bond for adults. History texts were vague on the subject, especially more sensitive parts such as slavery (slavery, beginning in the Victorian period, was often depicted as something other countries did, while Britain acted as the primary force to abolish it). The first map that British school-children encountered was no longer the one that was colored pink in large swathes where the Empire had been.

But now—had anything changed? The Empire Pie was still bothering me. I went to the bookstore, and was frankly relieved not to find the titles I feared; there was no Charlie and Lola: We Completely Must Eat an Empire Pie or recommendation signs saying, “If you loved the Hunger Games, try The Empire Chronicles”. But in the children’s history section, I did find two books that suggest that the old ideas of empire might be making a comeback. Both are from 2014, although one, Ladybird Histories: British History (written by Tim Wood, with illustrations from Phil Page, John Dillow, Peter Dennis and Carlo Molinari) is a reprint of the 2011 edition of a 1996 title (got that?). The other, an appealing “lift the flap” type book, is entitled See inside the History of Britain by Rob Lloyd Jones and Barry Ablett (London: Usborne, 2014).

Britain beyond Britain is an 'empire' (why the quotation marks?)

Britain beyond Britain is an ’empire’ (why the quotation marks?)

In the latter book, the empire is dealt with only on a single page: “Britain beyond Britain” in which we learn that “From the 1600s to the 1900s, British influence spread around the world. Explorers set off on dangerous journeys, and traders set up colonies in far-off lands” (8). Looking at the page without lifting flaps, we learn that Britain “took control of large parts of Africa” and also “took control of India”. Notably, Australia “became” part of the British Empire. The difference in language harks back to language in history textbooks from imperial days, in which “white” colonies such as Australia and Canada, were described quite differently from non-white parts of the world. The page spread also repeats the phrase which was once so familiar to young Britons (although with a curious use of quotation marks): “By 1900, Britain ruled over a quarter of the world—a vast ‘empire’ that stretched across the globe” (8).

The main story in See Inside tells us the empire is all about trade.

The main story in See Inside tells us the empire is all about trade.

Lifting the flaps does let you in on some darker secrets of this glorious empire.

Underneath that history of glorious trade is a darker story.

Underneath that history of glorious trade is a darker story.

For example, lifting the flap about trade (which described a list of raw materials and products, such as tea and sugar), we learn that another of the items that Britain traded was slaves who were treated “dreadfully” (9) and “like animals” (9). Shockingly, we also learn that some people “resented” (9) being ruled. It is a good change that See inside the History of Britain does admit British people’s role in the slave trade, but still more than a bit troublesome that the main page—what children see when they open the book—is purely celebratory of British power.

You can see why the British had to conquer the warlike Zulus from this picture in the Ladybird History.

You can see why the British had to conquer the warlike Zulus from this picture in the Ladybird History.

Ladybird Histories: British History has little to say directly about the British Empire (empire is not listed as a subject in the index, and commonwealth, which is included, refers only to the period of Britain under Oliver Cromwell), but some of what it does say is disturbing. Slaves are labelled, confusingly, as “cheap labour” (111) and the “Indian Mutiny” (otherwise known as the Sepoy Rebellion) started with “resentment” (127) and ended with the British building “roads, railways and postal services” (127), all resentment apparently put aside. The most disturbing reference to empire, though, is on the page about “The Zulu War”. The illustration and text return to imperial descriptions of the war between the British and the Zulu; the “vast British Empire” is threatened by the “warlike people” who “massacred” 1500 British troops in a “disaster” that was later avenged when the British army “destroyed” the Zulu capital (all page 128). There follows only two further references to the Empire; on page 132, “Representatives came from all over the Empire to pay their respects” to Queen Victoria; and on the final page, “The great overseas British Empire was about to disappear” (146) after WWII, apparently for no particular reason. If it was so great, why did it have to go?

Well, I suppose Empire Piecrust promises are just the same as any others: easily made, easily broken.