Magazines and periodicals for children began appearing in England in the middle of the 19th century. Publishers often produced for the Christmas market the year’s issues bound together in one volume: the annual. In time these annuals became miscellanies of new work developed especially for the Christmas publication. The earliest – and still famous – examples were The Boy’s Own Paper and its counterpart, The Girls Own Paper which set the tone and structure for the many annual variants published over the next hundred and fifty years. Boys’ Own Annual and Girls Own Annual provided a mix of stories and educational articles, along with coloured plates (illustrations) and often poetry.

The golden age of annual publication was the period between the turn of the 20th century through to the 1950s. The Magnet, Schoolgirl’s Own Annual, The Dandy, Girl’s Crystal, Princess, Bunty, The Beano, Rupert - these titles and many others found their way into Christmas stockings throughout Britain and its colonies, New Zealand, included. These annuals – like the magazines of the same title throughout the year - were miscellanies of comic stories and strips, fiction, verse, puzzles and how tos; each title was aimed at either boys or girls and the material within reflected the ferocious gender stereotyping of the time. Authors and artists were almost never credited.

The average issue of Bunty magazine – to take one representative example - contained several short comic-strip stories, broken up by letters pages, competitions, featured readers, puzzle pages, promotions, next-week previews or advertisements. Bunty Annual provided a similar mix and included new stories starring many of the popular characters serialized throughout the year. ‘The Four Marys’ was the most celebrated of these serials – set in a girls’ boarding school. The boarding school story and boys adventure stories were staples of the classic annual.

By the 1970s and 80s the classic annual mix was being adapted for promotion of toys and commodities – Barbie Annual, Transformer Annual etc – and the classic annual titles quietly faded away. Today Girls’ Crystal, Rupert, The Beano and all the rest are objects of considerable nostalgia for the adults who read them in their youth. They are also sought after by annual collectors around the globe.  Check out your local second-hand bookshop – there’s bound to be an annual or two there. Or possibly in your grandparents’ attics or garages.

 Annual draws its inspiration from these classic annuals – in particular from their mix of different forms: comics, stories, poetry, puzzles, games, how tos and articles. A second important influence were Puffin Annual 1 & Puffin Annual 2 from 1974 and 1975. These remarkable literary publications featured the same mix of material as the classic annuals but the writers and artists were a roll call of some of the great 20th century authors for children: Roald Dahl, Tove Jansson, Edward Ardizzone, Quentin Blake, Pauline Baynes, Raymond Briggs and many, many more.

Annual does have a boarding school story – a tribute to the old annuals – but it is, we hope, a thoroughly contemporary publication – for any and every kind of reader, whatever their age and gender.