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).


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).


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).


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.”


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.


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.

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.



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?


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.



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.


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.


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”.



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.



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.



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.


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.



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).



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.