Oxford University Press: Children's Annuals

Children's Annuals published by
Humphrey Milford : Oxford University Press

At this time two names were closely associated with the children's annuals published by the Oxford University Press: publisher Humphrey Milford and editor Herbert Strang. No matter that both Mr and Mrs Herbert Strang were pseudonyms for the team of George Herbert Ely and C. James L'Estrange, it was Herbert Strang or Mrs. Herbert Strang whose name appeared on the cover, just as Humphrey Milford's name was always printed above "The Oxford Press."

The Oxford University Press (OUD) published 19 original stories by Savery. They purchased the copyright and frequently reprinted the same story in two or three different annuals. It is not probable that I have identified all of the reprints in the list below.

The annuals are listed in chronological order. When two or more stories were published in the same year, the titles are alphabetical. The images are to scale. Those on the left have the original stories. If there are two stories in a single annual, its cover is shown only with the first story. The covers of annuals and magazines with reprints are on the right and have been reduced an additional twenty percent.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

The Hill with the Dippitty Trees. Illus by K.N.B.N. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1929, pp 74-82 in "The Oxford Annual for Children - 17th Year." Reprinted, 1931, illus. by Edith Blackmon, London: Humphrey Milford : Oxford University Press, pp 114-126 in "Merry Stories for Children." Reprinted, 1932, in London: Oxford University Press, as the last story in "The Big Book for Children."

The story was accepted in 1927. The title pages of "Merry Stories for Children" are undated, but one of the illustrations for the Savery story has the date 1931. The annual title and date for the 1932 reprint are taken from the work diary. The artist's signature for the reprints isn't clear (Blackman, Blackmun, Bleckison...?)

Savery's first short story for Oxford isn't distinguished, but it has a theme in common with Nicolas Chooses White May, which was published at the same time. In both stories a neglected younger child is entertained by the black sheep of the family. In this case, six children take a long hike to eat a picnic under the 'dippitty trees' that can be seen from their house. They explore a cottage, running away when the owner returns. Only Jock is caught, and she is dismayed when her siblings, given the choice, choose to rescue their lunches rather than her and return home leaving her in the hands of her captor.

Paul the Inventor. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1931, pp 70-80 in "The Big Book of Fun" printed by MacKays Ltd., Chatham. Reprinted, 1935, by Oxford University Press.

Both the work diary and a 1934 letter with a delayed payment refer to the title as The Inventions of Paul. Presumably that is the title of the reprint in an unidentified annual. Though not very profound, the story is certainly amusing.

Having decided to be an inventor, eight-year-old Paul tries out a toothache cure on the girl who brings the milk, dumps a rare book into his bath using a mechanical page-turner, creates a hand on a boom to go out the window and shake unwelcome visitors, and devises a shrimp peeler that attacks his fingers. When these inventions fail, he turns his attention to a machine that will make sleepy people get up in the morning. Once it is connected to the bed in the guest room, he sends his twin, Roderick, to try it out, but Roddy decides it would be wiser instead to sit on the stairs and see what happens. Neither boy knows that their dreadful detested Aunt Eliza has come for a visit and is in the bed. Fleeing by railway to their grandmother's house, the twins return home only after their father has assured them that their indignant aunt has departed.

One Leaf on the Track. Illus. by M.S. Reeve. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press. 1933, pp 119-128 in "The Big Book for Guides," printed by Richard Clay and Sons, Limited, Bungay, Suffolk. Reprinted, Feb. 1947, Nashville: GIRLS TODAY, The Methodist Publishing House, 810 Broadway, Nashville 2, Tennessee. Printed at 420 Plum St., Cincinnati 2, Ohio. Reprinted May 1959, London: Spring Books, Spring House, Spring Place, London NW 5, pp 27-34 in "The New Parade for Girls," printed in Czechoslovakia.

The information about the publisher of GIRLS TODAY was taken from BOYS TODAY. There is no date in the volume from Spring Books, but an article in it about swimming mentions an event in 1955. The date above is from the work diary. The illustrations in "The New Parade..." are not signed.

Three Girl Guides, recovering from the mumps, but still quarantined, are each commissioned to go for a walk and emulate Lord Baden-Powell by finding a leaf that is a clue for something, "it doesn't much matter what." Martha finds a leaf of Indian corn, concludes that it is there to mark something hidden, and unearths a basket filled with fruit and vegetables, which she takes to the church porch. Peggy almost ignores a wet lettuce leaf, but it leads first to a lost tortoise and then to the lost basket. Jessica picks up one common yellow leaf from a thousand others like it, remembers the tree from which it has fallen, and finds an invisible voice singing a Savery carol, Cradles for Babies.

Improving Inky. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1933, pp 51-62 in "The Oxford Annual for Girls", Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.), printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted, 1939, by Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London, pp 23-34 in "The Big Book for Girls," printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford.

Inez Dare, known as Inky, comes to King Arthur's School with an independent attitude and no discipline at all. The form-prefects organize the girls into five committees of three girls each to supervise Inky and prevent the worst disasters. Excluded from this arrangement is Hilderivy Briggs, who is nearly as odd as Inky and undependable. There is some improvement in Inky until she imagines she sees a kitten stranded on the roof and darts out the window onto its narrow ledge. Seconds later, the window cord breaks, and both window frames drop down against the sill, resisting any effort to move them. On tiptoes, high in the air, Inky hangs on for dear life. There are no adults about, and the other girls panic until Hilderivy rushes in, takes in the situation, and manages to grasp Inky's wrists while standing on a desk. Rescued, Inky leaves, and her Improvement Society is disbanded.

King Arthur's School, which is also the locale for Redhead at School, is based clearly upon Savery's own High School, King Edward's, and Improving Inky is the best of Savery's short school stories. Savery may have honored a madcap college classmate, Hilda Reid, when she named Hilderivy.

Jacintha at College. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1933, pp 169-180 in "The Oxford Annual for Girls", Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.), printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted, 1936, by Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London, pp 106-117 in "The Big Book for Girls," printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted, May, 1949, Nashville: GIRLS TODAY, The Methodist Publishing House, 810 Broadway, Nashville 2, Tennessee. Printed at 420 Plum St., Cincinnati 2, Ohio.

Like Dorothy L. Sayers, Savery attended Somerville College at Oxford and completed all the requirements. Unlike Sayers, she was permitted to graduate, a member of the first class in which women were awarded degrees. Her love for the town and its university is evident in this story.

Scapegrace Jacintha Lestrange doesn't let her lessons interfere with her education, so it comes as a surprise to find that an ex-prefect, Denise Bailey, has invited her to spend the halfterm vacation in college. It is a mistake, of course, but Denise plays up, and Jacintha is so captivated that she returns to school determined to get to Oxford even if she has to work "like two tigers." And does.

Under the pseudonym Herbert Strang (and Mrs. Herbert Strang), George Herbert Ely and C. James L'Estrange edited children's books for the Oxford University Press for over a quarter of a century. Jacintha's last name may have been a small tribute to L'Estrange. The "Oxford Annuals for Girls" were originally titled "Mrs. Herbert Strang's Annuals for Girls," and although it isn't mentioned on the title page, this is Vol. 15.

A Book of Beauties. Illus. by M.D. Johnston. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1934, pp 73-82 in "The Great Book for Brownies," Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.). Printed by R. Clay and Sons, Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk.

The Brownies have been given notebooks in which to record the beauties they see, but Olive will find it hard to participate, since she is going to stay with an aunt and uncle in the foggy, gloomy city. Attitude is everything, and when Olive comes home, she has twenty-nine beauties listed in her book, from the glossy aspidistra in Aunt's living room and a margarine box of marigolds under a neighbor's bed to a joyful crowd of college boys riding home from a day in the country laden with blackberry branches. Savery, who lived and went to school in smoky Birmingham, knows how to bless a single tree, standing alone among the buildings.

The Crab-Stall Artists. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1934, pp 106-117 in "The Great Book for Girls," Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.). Printed by MacKays Ltd., Chatham. Reprinted, Aug. 1948, Nashville: GIRLS TODAY, The Methodist Publishing House, 810 Broadway, Nashville 2, Tennessee. Printed at 420 Plum St., Cincinnati 2, Ohio.

Evidently 1934 was a good year, because there are a number of these annuals available on the used book market.

Poor Minty! She must persuade rich Uncle James to support her through art school with the same generosity that has showered painting supplies and art courses on her head ever since, as a little girl, her parents identified her as the least inartistic child in their large family. Alas, she has no talent, and the orphan boy at the crab-stall mocks her daubs, adding to the insult by sketching her portrait on the back of a piece of brown paper. She leaves her paints behind when she goes home and returns to find a portfolio of untutored, but genuinely talented pictures waiting for her, just what is needed for Uncle James to bring the story to its obvious happy conclusion.

Mad Max Madd. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press. 1934. In the "Big Book of School Stories for Girls," Mrs. Herbert Strang, ed.

I am indebted to Eva M. Löfgren for originally providing me with a photocopy of this story. This particular edition of the "Big Book of School Stories for Girls" is quite rare, and it was several years before I found one.

Maximiliana Madd resents her school nickname, 'Mad Max,' and resolves to put both it and her idiosyncrasies behind her as she begins the new school year as a Sixth Former. Unfortunately, her twin, Roger, persuades her to one last bit of eccentricity, writing stories as 'Auntie Polly' for the kiddie column in the local weekly, so that she and Roger can earn what is needed to send their sickly mother and brother south to a healthier climate.

When her cover is blown by the newspaper's well-meaning editor, Max promises her Head Mistress to cease 'writing nonsense' and to turn her attention to more important concerns: study and games. Happily, she lets her pent-up emotion spill out in what was supposed to be a scholarly essay for the annual school prize, and luckily it isn't the headmistress who grades it.

Savery's dislike for school-teaching is well documented, and she only began writing seriously after her school and university days were well behind her, so it is tempting to read an auto-biographical significance into Mad Max's frustration.

The School Museum. London: Oxford University Press. 1934. In "The Big Book of School Stories for Girls," Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.). Reprinted, July 31, 1949, with illus. by Vance Locke. Nashville: GIRLS TODAY, 8(7) pt.5, pp. 1-2, 6-7. The Methodist Publishing House, 810 Broadway, Nashville 2, Tennessee. Printed at 420 Plum St., Cincinnati 2, Ohio.

When a benefactor provides St. Clare's with a museum room with bookshelves and display cases, Clarissa Marlowe and her four chums, the Chocolate Girls, enter the competition for best museum entry. Unfortunately, their exhibit, which includes a bar of soap used by royalty and a collar worn, probably, by Tennyson, is sent to Africa in a missionary box, while the missionary garments are displayed in the museum case to the displeasure of the Head, Miss Hardcastle. The tale is neither markedly better nor markedly worse than other school stories. Whoever illustrated the reprint didn't read the story. There are six chums on the cover, not five.

The Scotch Society. Illus. by C.E. Brock. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1934, pp 31-40 in "The Oxford Annual for Girls", printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted, 1937, London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press in "The Big Book for Girls". Reprinted, Feb. 1947, Nashville: GIRLS TODAY, The Methodist Publishing House, 810 Broadway, Nashville 2, Tennessee. Printed at 420 Plum St., Cincinnati 2, Ohio. Reprinted May 1959, London: Spring Books, Spring House, Spring Place, London NW 5, pp 44-51 in "The New Parade for Girls," printed in Czechoslovakia.

When Robina Duncan started the Scotch Society, Paddy O'Fintigan said Robina only wanted to be on good terms with senior Jean Stracham, who was elected President. Paddy, who never ceased praising Ireland, was allowed to join on the basis of a hypothetical Scotch (Scottish? Scots?) great-grandmother and an extra shilling to sweeten the pot. When Jean resigns, Robina contrives the mass resignation of all the other members except the recalcitrant Paddy and writes her to say the Society has been dissolved. Since she is still a member, Paddy goes on alone to hold a successful Society evening with a guest speaker reading Robert Burns. It's one up for the Irish and good fun for all!

To See the Princess. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1934, pp 41-49 in "The Oxford Annual for Children, 22nd Year." Reprinted, 1937, with the same illustrations, London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, pp 94-102 in "The Big Book for Children," Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.).

The book is undated, but it has a "Christmas, 1936, inscription. Based upon the edition number of earlier books in this series, the 1934 date from the work diary seems reasonable. The design on the dust jacket is the same as the cover design, but the worn wrapper had protected the book so well that I used the cover for my illustration.

Bunty is the youngest Brownie, and Joan, who is not much older, has promised not to let her out of her sight at the "Rally of Three Counties" where they will join six thousand other girls to see the Princess. Bunty is nothing but trouble. She spoils her lunch, runs and shouts when she should be sitting quietly, climbs a forbidden tree, and falls sick just before the Brownies seat themselves to watch the Procession. Bunty must go to the hospital tent, and Joan, despite being told she will miss the Princess, feels she must go with her. Inside the tent, the children hear the festivities in the distance. The nurses take turns walking off to watch and return, but Joan insists on staying, and her constancy is rewarded when a dignified Guider pays the tent a surprise visit.

The Anomalous Prize. Illus. by C.E. Brock. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1935, pp 155-163 in "The Big Book for Girls", Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.), printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford.

Sheila and Jean have decided that unpopular, uninspired Nancy Blackett ought to get some recognition when her parents return from India to attend Speech Day. Recognizing that Nancy is no candidate for any prize the school will award, Sheila proposes an "Anomalous Prize," pointing out that "the best way to preserve anomalousness is by saying nothing to any one who might interfere." Sheila's uncle is kind enough to provide a fat book for the prize, but an obstacle stands in the way of their candidate being elected: Nancy speaks in favor of one of her opponents. That speech is so successful that Nancy is asked to speak for another girl, and before Speech Day arrives, she has given an impassioned appeal on behalf of each of the other girls. In fact, "listening to Nancy" has become the latest form of school entertainment. Nancy does not win the "Anomalous Prize," but her Hyde Park oratory is rewarded.

The French Vow. Illus. by C.E. Brock. London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1935, pp 57-69 in "The Oxford Annual for Children - Vol. 23." Reprinted, 1938, with the same illustrations, London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, pp 91-102 in "The Big Book for Children," Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.).

Savery was fluent in French and wrote this story at a time when English children were taught French routinely at an early age. It is doubtful if modern children, in America at least, could understand the simple French in this story, much less laugh at the mistakes, making this the most dated of all Savery's fiction. Mais que sais-je?

That said, it isn't hard to figure out what is going on. Three young children, having failed in French at school, determine among themselves to should speak nothing but French during the holidays. With poor grammar and no vocabulary to speak of, they have a hard time of it, especially when their rich, easily offended cousin comes to tea during their parents' absence.

'One Crowded Hour---' Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1934, pp 72-80 in "The Oxford Annual for Girls", printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted May 1959, London: Spring Books, Spring House, Spring Place, London NW 5, pp 288-295 in "The New Parade for Girls," printed in Czechoslovakia.

Alison is barred from going on the school picnic, although Monica, with a much worse record, is making the trip. Left with other miscreants in the nearly deserted school, Alison is pressed into service by a photographer who arrives to capture the school for his fashionable magazine. Meeting the challenge, Alison enlists the other students in putting on a good show, mightily boosted after posing in the Head Girl's blazer and finding on her desk proof that it was Monica and not she who was supposed to have been gated. The pictures are so successful that this story must end happily.

This is a typical school story, neither better nor worse than others of its genré. Savery's touch is shown not in the benefit that results from Alison's unjust punishment, but in the absence of any corresponding retribution for the careless Head Girl who posted the wrong name.

Orange Flowers. Oxford University Press. 1936. Reprinted, Apr.29, 1951, with illus. by Martha Welborn in PICTURES AND STORIES, X(4), pt. 5, Nashville: The Methodist Publishing House, 810 Broadway, Nashville, Tennessee., pp 17, 20.

Olive and Nonie, apparently, although not explicitly, another pair of Savery twins, have planted orange seeds in a large flower pot and submitted an entry to the children's section of the flower show. After many days of tender care no shoots appear, so Granny slips some nasturtium seeds into the pot, and Mother, Daddy, and Aunt Lucy add seeds as well. Nonie and Olive are surprised, but pleased, when four different sets of flowers appear, but as all the blooms are orange, they are able to make their entry under its original name, "Orange Flowers."

I have not identified the Oxford annual in which this very short, very ingratiating story appeared, but it is fun to read aloud, with Granny saying innocently that she didn't plant marigolds, poppies, or snapdragons, Aunt Lucy denying the poppies, snapdragons, and nasturtiums, and so on.

The School Sampler. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1936, pp 174-183 in "The Oxford Annual for Girls, vol. 18", printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted in paperback 1942, Oxford University Press, pp 45-56 in "The V (for Victory) Book for Girls," printed by W. & J. MacKay & Co Ltd, Chatham.

It is a school-story cliché: an unbending Mistress in a position of minor authority imposes an impossible task on an inept girl, who is saved through the intervention of the Headmistress. Here is Savery's contribution.

The Sewing Mistress has decreed that every child in the school will contribute some small part to the School Sampler, and Catharine Clegg "of the clumsy hands," who does mathematics for recreation, is defeated by the small rabbit allotted to her. Her repeated efforts lead only to disaster, and when she receives help, the work must be picked out and begun anew. The rabbit is finally finished, and Catharine affirms truthfully that none of the girls assisted her, but how was it managed?

Where Diotis Grows. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1936, pp 41-48 in "The Oxford Annual for Girls, vol. 18", printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted 1940, London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press in "The Brave Book for Girls," printed at the University Press, Oxford, pp 109-116.

Not only was Pauline a dunce, she was younger than Derek and Ruth and Godfrey, who were superior in every way. Only once had she felt special. It happened on a visit to great-great Aunt Arbel and great-great Uncle Humphrey on a tiny offshore island where Aunt Arbel wrote about plants and Uncle Humphrey painted them. There Pauline had found some tiny dream flowers growing in the sand. Uncle Humphrey told her they were named Diotis, they were very rare, and to protect them, she must never tell where they were. Now it was years later, Father's business badly needed money, the older children wanted to go away to school, and there was only Uncle Humphrey who might help. Uncle Humphrey, whose mind has become clouded about everything except botany, has curtly refused to help Father, but the children, in desperation, use Pauline's savings to go see him. Derek and Ruth and Godfrey make no impression with their superior achievements, but Pauline knows where diotis grows.

This is pleasant reading, a nice change from all the school stories. Savery herself discovered Diotis while on a vacation in the Isles of Scilly. According to Davey (1902), Diotis candidissima, previously lost from every other British habitat, is now extinct in Cornwall, also.

Hobby by Proxy. Illus. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1937, pp 25-34 in "The Oxford Annual for Girls", printed by John Johnson, University Press, Oxford. Reprinted November 1947, Nashville: Methodist Publishing House in GIRLS TODAY. Reprinted May 1959, London: Spring Books, Spring House, Spring Place, London NW 5 in "The New Parade for Girls," printed in Czechoslovakia.

Having disgraced herself with an "omega-minus" paper on the use of leisure activity, Bubbles must write an essay about her hobbies to show that she does use her free time profitably. The difficulty is that she has no hobbies and spends her free time amusing her friends. The friends rally around, suggesting a variety of hobbies from which Bubbles may choose, but none appear easy enough to master in time for the essay to be written until Joanna suggests soap-carving. All the soap in the building vanishes suddenly as the friends fall to demonstrating, and what Bubbles can learn by admiring, she learns. There is no happy ending. When one of the soap carvings is accidentally dissolved in the soup, Bubbles can no longer write about "her" hobby of soap-carving and we leave her struggling to justify "cheering up friends" as an acceptable leisure activity.

I have not seen the reprint in GIRLS TODAY, but it is confirmed by a 10 Apr 1947 acceptance letter to Savery from the Methodist Publishing House and by the work diary, which provides the November date.

The Little House. Illus. unnamed. London : Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London. 1938, pp 87-93 in "The Oxford Annual for Children - 26th Year," Mrs. Herbert Strang (ed.), printed by R. Clay & Sons, Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk.

When two children in one yard and three children in the next both claim the same kitten, there is bound to be a quarrel, and that is why Betty and Alice are not talking to Roger, Elizabeth, and John Lascelles, even though, with a little help from Mr. Lascelles, they are building the prettiest playhouse in the world. It is so pretty that Betty and Molly sneak into it one evening and have a wonderful time until two men arrive to steal the Lascelles' hens and fruit. The kitten ends up happiest with five children to own and spoil it.

This web site © 2010-15 by Eric Schonblom. Updated 6 June 2014. The unpublished works of Constance Savery are reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner, J. D. Hummerstone.