Breaking the Rules

30 September 2017, Havelock North Function Centre
Readers & Writers, HBAF

Outside the Havelock North Function Centre grey clouds loom over the blossom-littered street, but inside there is a cosy atmosphere.  Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris sit chatting, reminiscing, and flicking through brightly coloured slides as they tell the story of how Annual came to be.  Annual, as I learned when I checked the sumptuous orange and gold hardcover out of the library, is a treasure-trove of short stories, poems, graphic stories, art commentaries and more, aimed at the often neglected 9-12-year-old age group.  As De Goldi put it: “It’s a stage when you have the most time to read in your life, and we believe those readers are sophisticated and smart.”

The idea was born three years ago while De Goldi was out for a run in Wadestown.  “It was hilly,” she said, “and I needed something to think about!” Reflecting on the sparseness of good middle fiction in New Zealand, and her memories of the annuals of the 60s and 70s, De Goldi hatched a plan: create an annual which would be representative of all Kiwi children and which could challenge publishers’ notions of what is acceptable for the middle reader. De Goldi approached Paris, who edits the School Journal – “part of Kiwi children’s DNA for more than 100 years” – and together the women set about to make it happen.

They knew what they wanted: stories, comics, how-to’s, poems.  They wanted new writers and great adult writers who hadn’t yet written for children.  “We would get together a couple of times a week to come up with good, and lunatic, ideas,” says De Goldi, “and we decided to commission pieces, because we knew the range we wanted.”  The result is a truly wonderful, funny, satirical, bright, sad, hopeful, poignant and visually delectable journey of a book.  It is also chock-a-block full of well-known Kiwi artists and writers.

Having pored over it at home, it was a treat to hear about the creation of some of the weirder, wackier pieces.  ‘The Kill List’ is one such piece.  The “insidiously rhyming” poem by Tim Upperton, we learned, was born from an article Paris read in the Dom Post detailing how the Wellington Zoo would manage a mass escape.  Who would be the first to go, do you think? The lion?  No – the chimpanzee, which is, as Upperton puts it, “a little too much like you and me.”  The result is a lilting, unsettling poem, which made me stop, tea in hand, and wonder.

The second Annual, published this year, sports even more varieties of form.  “We wanted to amp up the craziness,” De Goldi and Paris say.  While I haven’t yet got my hands on one, I most certainly will, if only to complete my very own “knitted digestive system”. The two women laugh as a slide of a fully formed, knitted, digestive tract appears on the wall.  There are a number of really weird craft projects in the book, they say. The original idea behind them was that if you made one, your parents would be so appalled they’d never badger you to take up a craft again, and you could go happily back to your screen. Not that any kid would want to with an Annual to pore over instead.

While Annual was created for the middle reader, I loved it, and my six-year-old happily sat beside me perusing the comic strips.  I’m looking forward to reading Annual 2, and I would encourage anyone to give them a go.

 

 

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