The Bom Annual

As I mentioned before, when on holiday I bought a copy of the Bom Annual for the princely sum of £1.

This is my very first Bom book of any kind – and so I know almost nothing about him.

In my review I’ll be asking the hard-hitting questions such as: Is Bom a real drummer boy or just a toy? What kind of stories does Bom appear in? and more.

The Bom Annual on the bottom left (it’s missing its dustjacket).

Bom’s books

First, the annual I bought is a one-off. From what I can see there are 8 Bom books (published between 1956 and 1961), 4 regular picture-strip books (1959-1963) and an Australian Weeties picture-strip book (1956). Plus of course the annual, a painting book and four jigsaws.

So, Bom is fairly well represented. I have probably seen his books on eBay etc before but as he looks like he is aimed at the very youngest Blyton fans he isn’t something I have actively sought out.

I’m pleased to have found the annual so cheaply, then as I think it will give me a good introduction to the world of Bom.

When is a review not a review?

I often find my reviews turning into synopsis – and it’s particularly easy for this to happen when it’s a short story collection or something aimed at very young readers. Having looked up Bom on the Enid Blyton Society I found that Terry Gustafson – a frequent reviewer and writer for the Enid Blyton Society Journal – had summed up my feelings on the matter very well.

 a review [of books like this] becomes more of a lengthy synopsis and the reason why anything should be written at all about the simpler books is that a whole host of them are not available… it can be useful if one can read something about it even if it’s just to satisfy one’s curiosity as to content… Not only will the simple reference enable fans to get some idea of what a book is all about, but it may be very helpful to those scores of people who write in enquiring about a particular story they had read years and years ago, or those requesting information about a character they know of but can’t place.

I frequently look up books to try to work out if I’ve read them before, or just to understand what they’re about and so a brief synopsis or vague review isn’t always helpful. I’m not sure exactly how this review will turn out but I suspect that it may be more of a description of the book’s contents.

The annual’s contents

The annual – like the Big Noddy Books – opens with a letter from the title character. Bom introduces himself and confirms that he is A TOY (I hope you’re hearing that in Tom Hanks’ voice, because that’s how I wrote it).

There’s also a handy contents list which tells me that there are:

  • twelve stories
  • four picture strips
  • four picture verses
  • four puzzles (and one set of answers)

So a nice mixed-bag of contents.

The Picture-Strips

The four picture-strips are like what you see in the Noddy Big Books – 9 coloured pictures per page with a brief caption under each. The first and last are full colour, the others are line drawings with one colour added.

They are

  • Bom Goes Adventuring
  • Bom’s Wizard Adventure
  • Bom’s Narrow Escape
  • Bom Visits Noah’s Ark

Bom Goes Adventuring tells us a little about Bom – he lives in a toy fort which is run by Captain Bang, and he is the drummer-boy. Having read the synopsis of the first novel in the Bom series (Bom the Little Toy Drummer) this picture-strip seems to be a very truncated retelling of that story – of how Bom is locked up and punished for being a terrible shot (and other misdemeanours in the full story), and then how he escapes in his drum to go off on his adventures.

The stories

Of the twelve stories nine are straight-forward tales about Bom, but three are rather odd and I’ll explain why in a moment.

The regular stories are:

  • Where Are My drum Sticks?
  • Gallop-A-Gallop-A-Gallop!
  • Pittery-Pattery-Pat!
  • Splash!
  • Away Went the Wuffy Dog
  • And Away Went the Drum
  • Bom and the Weather-Girl
  • It Happened One Afternoon
  • Crack-Crack-Crack!

As for the other three, they are:

  • The Little Sugar House
  • Jane’s Clever Thrush
  • The Magic Duster

What’s odd about these three is that Bom isn’t even in them! The first two appear back to back, after a page headed Please, Skipper Heave-Ho, Tell Me a Story! There is half a page of text where Bom asks his friend to tell him a story and the two that follow are Skipper Heave Ho relating the stories very much in Blyton’s voice! I’m not sure how I feel about that! It looks as if the annual perhaps had to be a certain length and so it was an easy way to bulk it out without having to write more actual Bom material – but according to The Cave of Books, all the stories were specially written! Maybe Blyton just ran out of Bom inspiration!

Saying that The Little Sugar House is one of the strongest stories in the book, with more depth and meaning than anything else.

The stories don’t really follow on from each other, though they don’t contradict each other either. One story begins with a reminder of Captain Bang who chased Bom after he ran away, and who then appears again and having spotted Bom gives chase again so there is some continuity. That story ends with Thunder – Captain Bang’s horse – refusing to stop when they catch up to Bom as Bom had done him a good turn, but somehow I expect that we haven’t seen the last of the captain!

And yes, I was right, Captain Bang does turn up later in the book and has another go at capturing Bom.

The Picture-Verses

These are just poems with a picture.

  • Drummer Boy
  • My Very Good Friend
  • A Picnic With Bom
  • My Wuffy Dog

My Very Good Friend introduces us to Skipper Heave-Ho (who appears in later stories and fulfills a similar role to Big-Ears in the Noddy books) and his unusual upside-down house-boat.

The Puzzles

These are four full-page picture puzzles:

  • Can You Find the Way? (A map-style maze)
  • What is Wrong? (Find the mistakes in the picture)
  • Can You Find Them? (Find the hidden animals)
  • The Toy Shop (Find the toys beginning with the letters given)

I  have to admit that I sometimes struggle with the puzzles Blyton poses in her magazines! Often it’s to do with phrases or objects that are very much out of date now. The Bom ones, being aimed at younger children, though, were nicely at my level, though I missed a few of the ‘what is wrong’ things, I stopped counting at six or seven and there were 10!

So what did I make of Bom?

I quite like Bom. He’s similar to Noddy but not half as foolish! The stories are simple but amusing and Bom does the right thing in them but also has moments of temper which shows he isn’t perfect.

The illustrations – provided by R. Paul-Hoye and H.W. Felstead –  are attractive in both the full colour and line drawings. I think I prefer the full-colour as they are just so bright and inviting.

What confuses me, though, is the world he lives in. At no point does the annual show him having or making a house anywhere – he seems to just wander as he pleases in order to have adventures. I’m used to Noddy who has a house and a business in order to make money to live. Wuffy dog also turns up with no explanation. For several stories it’s just Bom then suddenly he has a dog who sometimes stays with Skipper Heave-Ho.

Anyway, what’s more confusing is Bom saying he’s a toy and then going on to behave as a real boy throughout. In fact – there don’t seem to be any toys in Bom’s world. There are animals who can talk to other animals, and behave in a mildly anthropomorphic way, and there are a few wizards, witches and brownies, but no toys. But if Bom’s a toy, then it stands to reason that the fort is a toy fort, and Captain Bang and Thunder are toys… so that would make it likely that everyone is a toy of some sort. Yet there are no references to anyone being a toy at all! Very confusing. I may have to get a few of the novels to make sense of it all.

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