Non-Fiction · Round-Up

Blogmas 2019: Illustrated Non-Fiction Gift Ideas.

Blogmas 2019: Illustrated Non-Fiction Gift Ideas.

 

Anatomicum by Katy Wiedemann and Jennifer Z Paxton. 

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Welcome to Anatomicum – a museum that is open 24 hours a day with displays about the anatomy of the human body. 

Have you ever wondered what you look like inside? What you really look like, with nothing held back? This book examines the different systems inside the body in fine detail with pictures of everything from veins and connective tissues to the different chambers of the heart.

The illustrations are drawn in the style of Victorian anatomy pictures but the style of the book feels fresh and modern. What I like most about this is that the book not only has broad appeal but it treats its younger readers as serious students. 

With the biggest museums in the UK mainly in London, a large number of people are shut out of accessing one of the most incredible forms of education. Putting some of those facts into books in a very visual format brings knowledge to people who might not otherwise access it. 

This series has been a big favourite for its high-quality production and serious approach to different disciplines. A book like this will remain a favourite for years and would make a wonderful gift this Christmas. 

 

Colossus by Colin Hynson. Illustrated by Giulia Lombardo. 

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Colossus explores some of the most amazing engineering and architecture in human history. From the Great Pyramids of Ancient Egypt through to the Eiffel Tower and the artificial islands of the modern-day, this book studies a range of buildings, bridges, and structures and celebrates the ingenuity behind their designs. 

Take a tour around the world to admire the greatest structures and feats of engineering – from the ancient to the futuristic. With lots of books suddenly available about travel and exploration it is lovely to see one that looks at the world through this lens. 

Nothing is missed out here. I was delighted to read pages about building for specific needs, such as earthquakes. There are facts here that most people would never know and it is wonderful to see a book for young readers that doesn’t underestimate its audience. It was also lovely to see a book about engineering in context. This shows so clearly how engineering is tied up with design and imagination and that art and creativity can be related to STEM subjects. 

With some double-page spreads dedicated to one structure and others exploring a specific area – such as canals – this book is an eye-opening tour of the world that will encourage readers to question whether they too could become an engineer and create amazing things. 

With striking illustrations and design, this will be a real favourite with young readers. 

 

Darwin’s Voyage Of Discovery by Jake Williams. 

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Step on board HMS Beagle with Charles Darwin and learn about the voyage that led to his theories about evolution. From the invitation to join a warship to the return home five years later, learn about the events that lead to one of the most famous and groundbreaking scientific theories of all time. 

With beautiful full-colour pages and illustrations, this book is one to treasure. 

It is important to learn the links between disciplines and this book reminds us that there is a history in science. How did Charles Darwin come to be on a ship and how were his studies carried out? What kind of kit did he have? The fact that the book follows Darwin’s progress in chronological order allows the reader to imagine themselves inside the story. The detailed pictures of the kit he handled, too, make the story feel more real because by thinking about what kind of objects Darwin might have handled we can think of him as a real person. 

My favourite pages are about the animals Darwin saw. There are clear links between natural science and geography and each section begins with a map of the location. 

Darwin’s voyage is one of the great adventures and as such, it is a favourite story among aspiring scientists and explorers. This wonderful volume brings the story to life and makes studies of the science richer. 

 

Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour Of The Solar System by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. 

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Get set for an adventure in the solar system with space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock. 

What is space? How do humans get there? What are the conditions like on the different planets? These questions and so many more are answered in this fantastic guidebook to the world beyond our planet. Layed out like a guidebook, this not only offers readers a chance to learn about the solar system but it encourages them to believe in themselves as future space scientists. 

With photographs and clear diagrams, this dispells so many common myths about the solar system. Hands up who once saw a picture of all the planets in a neat row when learning about the relative distances of planets from the sun? (Hand right up). Hands up who heard vague descriptions about gas planets that made it sound as if one was very much like another? Now that so much has been discovered about our solar system, and that so many fantastic images have been taken from space, it makes sense for readers to learn about space with photographs of the real thing alongside non-confusing images. 

Many of the pages are broken into bitesize chunks of text in boxes. This allows readers to digest one fact at a time on a very big subject, but the levels of both the information and language never underestimate the audience. 

The perfect introduction to space for aspiring scientists. 

 

Explorers by Nellie Huang. Illustrated by Jessamy Hawke. 

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Tales of sea and ice are not for the faint-hearted. 

With so much information available now at the touch of a button, it is difficult to imagine that, not so long ago, people had to set off on great voyages to learn about other parts of the world. Presented like an inspirational people book, Explorers delves deeper into the stories of people who set out to learn more about our world. 

With beautiful illustrations and clear colour photographs, this is a great book for readers who are interested in the history of natural science. 

There are different definitions of ‘exploration’ and I like that different kinds of explorers are represented. From space scientists to sea navigators to all-out chancers, this book takes us back to a time when there was everything to learn about the science and geography of our world. 

Exploration has been tied up with colonialism. This book only touches on the realities of this when it talks about a couple of artifacts that have been returned to other countries. However, it does at least acknowledge this somewhere and this offers adults a chance to open important conversations with younger readers about whether or not ‘discovered’ artifacts belonged to the explorers who stole them from their homelands. 

 

Heroes by Jonny Marx. Illustrated by Gerhard Van Wyx. 

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Not all heroes wear capes. Some are ordinary, everyday people. The kind you might pass on the streets, like firefighters and engineers and artists. This book showcases different kinds of heroes and looks at the work they do. 

With the number of books about inspirational people on the shelves, it is important to see that not every kind of heroic or amazing job is newsworthy. Not every hero goes down in history (although some people who start such a job find they do almost by accident). This book showcases historical and well-known figures alongside names that are never mentioned or heard. 

Although I have seen more inspirational people books in the past 18 months than I can count, this one stands out because it introduces different fields and the events that stand out within their history before giving profiles of people. This shows readers that being inspirational isn’t only about individual actions, but that learning from other people and belonging to a field comes first. Even self-taught people learn from books and conversations and following work that has come first. 

The other thing I like about this is the striking design. It is part comic-book and part retro-style poster and, with the orange, black and green colour scheme, it really makes a strong impact.

This achieves the tricky balance of allowing readers to reach for the heights whilst being grounded in the everyday work that involves. This is why I would recommend it of all the inspirational tales books this Christmas. 

 

Inventor Lab by Jack Challoner. With a foreword from Dr Lucy Rogers.

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Do you know anybody who pulls everything apart to see how it works?  Are you looking for a gift for a young engineer or inventor? This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to makes things work for themselves.

From nightlights to a door alarm to a wire buzzer game, this book is packed with ideas for things to create and explore.

Everybody has seen a recipe book but this is the first time I have seen a book about simple engineering laid out in a similar way. The unwritten message of this book, unlike so many other STEM titles, is that inventing and putting together is something to do on a day-to-day basis, instead of something that happens in a secret laboratory in a faraway place. This is the very best part of this title because it shows readers that engineering is for everyone.

The book begins with introductory sections that show clear pictures of tools and components that might be used. It runs through basic safety and also some simple skills that might come in handy. I like that this has been done over a good number of pages and that everything is backed up by clear pictures. This is so important when readers might not know how something is supposed to look.

Every step of the project is pictured and labelled clearly too and it is impossible to flick through without wanting to have a go.

The perfect book for young inventors as well as for the insatiably curious.

Tyrannosaurus Rex – A Pop-Up Guide To Anatomy by Dougal Dixon. Illustrated by Rachel Caldwell.

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Have you ever wondered what a T-Rex looks like underneath its skin? Now you can lift the flaps up on 3D illustrations and study the anatomy of the world’s most famous dinosaur.

The first thing everyone has said in response to this book is ‘Wow’. Think pop-ups. Think beautifully designed pop-ups. Then throw in some interaction. This is learning through play at its greatest. It is impossible not to be amazed when a realistic-looking dinosaur model forms seamlessly out of the pages.

This book explores different areas of the tyrannosaurus rex’s body, from its skull to its abdomen. It also introduces us to what tyrannosaurus rex eggs look like and to the kind of habitat it might have lived in. Text around the diagrams explains how different features would have been an advantage to the dinosaur, which is a wonderful early introduction to ideas about adaptation and evolution.

Dougal Dixon is a paleontologist and educator who has written previous children’s titles on dinosaurs. This idea – of turning readers into scientists who can see and deduce things for themselves, proves that he knows his stuff. Combined with Rachel Caldwell’s striking illustrations – both the pop-ups and the line drawings – this is bound to be a hit with young dinosaur explorers.

 

Weather by Isabel Otter. Illustrated by Hannah Tolson. 

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Snow, rain, wind, sun, and thunder. Weather is everywhere and there is so much to find out about what makes it happen and change. 

It is a beautiful introduction not only to naming different types of weather but to the science behind them. What I like about this is it is divided into five double-page spreads, like mini-chapters on Sun, Rain, Wind, Snow, and Ice, and Thunder and Lightning. Young children are often introduced to weather as one big list of names but this means they have to be separated out again when children come to study the science. By keeping things in like groups from the start, this allows children to think of weather as a series of different but related systems. 

The big attraction here is undoubtedly the sliders. Each spread has two illustrations that are merged together. One can be changed for another by pulling the slider across. The very best of these is the slider about the water cycle, which lends itself perfectly as a subject to this format. 

As well as the sliders, the spreads are broken up into little boxes and each box is beautifully illustrated. This will go down beautifully with readers who are used to seeing tablet and smart-phone screens as each box is like a separate window. 

 An impressively designed book with just the right amount of facts for a new reader or to share with younger children. 

 

When We Walked On The Moon by David Long and Sam Kalda. 

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Getting humans to the moon and back began long before 1969. It was a tremendous feat of human engineering and it took the greatest intelligence and resources of the day to achieve. This book looks at the story behind the 1969 moon landing and at missions to the moon before and since. 

With the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing celebrated this summer, the moon will be a hot topic amongst readers of all ages, and especially amongst young readers who learned all about it during the build-up. When We Walked On The Moon is a great book to give this holiday season because it looks at the wider picture of missions to the moon. 

This covers both history and science. It is told in chronological order, beginning with the Space Race and working through to the present day. It looks at the science needed both to build the space crafts and then to get them from the Earth to the Moon’s surface and back again. Later parts of the book detail the kind of work scientists have done on the moon and in space from collecting samples to repairing spacecraft and working on the International Space Station. 

With the Appollo Mission patches reproduced beautifully on the chapter page and pictures of the missions in progress, this book will recall an era of hope and excitement in human progress. 

 

With thanks to Big Picture Books, Templar Publishing, Pavillion Books, Buster Books, Dorling Kindersley, Little Tiger Press and Quarto Publishing Group UK for the titles supplied for review featured in this title.

Opinions remain my own.

Blogmas 2019 · fairytales · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

Review: Starbird by Sharon King-Chai.

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The Moon King is delighted when he finds out he is to become a father, and he vows to give his daughter the most beautiful present in all the world. He captures the Starbird, whose legendary voice fills the young Princess’s dreams with magic.

One day, the Princess notices that Starbird’s songs are filled with sadness and longing for the open skies. When the Moon King finds out that the Princess has set Starbird free, he vows to hunt high and low until the bird is recaptured.

The Princess begs and pleads with her father to see reason, for she knows that a living thing can belong to no other being.

A beautiful folktale presented with striking illustrations for a new generation.

Starbird – and variations on the story – is a story of hope for humankind. As equally as it makes us despair for the actions of people who have believed they can enslave and claim ownership of other lives, it brings hope. This story has been passed through the generations so clearly there have been voices speaking against such actions throughout time. It gets to the very core of the attitudes that have caused, among other things, the current Climate Crisis. To make a difference to the world we have to put aside the idea that ownership and profit are important.

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With plenty of great books coming out which have an overt message, is it lovely to see a folktale that happens to be relevant to our times. Readers will be introduced to this tale without expecting a message and so it will be their empathy for Starbird that leads them to think more broadly other issues. Otherwise, it is simply a beautiful tale to read over and over.

The illustration and design of this story is stunning and it stands out as a particularly special book because of it. Striking landscapes in pale colours alternate with patterned pages where animal shapes can be made out it the blank space between different designs. Silver foil detail is used to great effect throughout. There is a particular focus on skies – starry heavens, and swirling Arctic lights and pale sunsets over the mountains. This enhances our emotions around Starbird’s longing for freedom because the skies make a contrast with the metal bars of his cage.

It is always nice to mix Christmas stories with fairytales, folklore and classic stories. Starbird’s stunning illustrations and sparkling silver detail make it the perfect book to read over Winter and it is a story that offers a message hope and love for our times.

 

Thanks to Two Hoots (Macmillan Children’s UK) for my copy of Starbird. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

Review: Oh, Christmas Tree! by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet.

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Sidney Street is filled with beautiful Christmas trees in the windows at every house … except at number 34. Behind the front door, the decorations are engaged in a chase with the tree. The tree has no interest in standing still and dressing up. There are hundreds of more exciting things to do. 

Eventually, the decorations tire of running about and set to making a different plan. 

A laugh-out-loud funny rhyming tale about a Christmas Tree who just wants to be left alone. 

What makes this work is that it is relatable. Any young reader will side with the tree, however much they love decorations because every small child knows how boring it is to be made to dress in a certain outfit or to pose for a photograph all on the whim of some adult. Adults too will dimly remember those days. Don’t we all have one photograph of ourselves scowling at Christmas time in a hand-knitted jumper or a frilly dress sent by some well-meaning but clueless relative? 

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On a deeper level, this might help readers to think about each other’s feelings at Christmas. There is a lot of pressure on everybody and it is worth remembering that just because somebody doesn’t go along with plan A doesn’t mean they aren’t there to have a nice time with everyone else. A compromise can often be found and respecting personal boundaries is important. 

The rhyme and illustrations are both in the style of previous books by this author/illustrator duo and these are very popular with young readers. The illustrations are bold and filled with movement and life. At times there is so much energy in the characters it seems that they might run right off the page. 

Funny books play an important part in any reader’s diet. They tackle deep themes and real life issues just as much as other stories and writing good humour is an art form in itself. Oh, Christmas Tree! is pitched perfectly to be funny both to children and their adult readers and it will be a big hit this Christmas. 

 

Many thanks to Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Oh, Christmas Tree! Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds.

Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds. Look Both Ways

Synopsis:

Ten stories. Different children. They go to the same school at the same point in time. Other than that, what do they have in common?

They all walk home from school. More to the point they are all walking home from school on one particular afternoon when, or so they hear, a school bus falls from the sky. Children walking home from school in a crowd can appear alike, but Jason Reynolds proves how every person is unique and special by looking closely into the lives of ten main characters.

Just kids walking home. Buying sweets. Dreaming up escape routes. Kids apparently doing nothing interesting at all.

A collection of contemporary stories that celebrate the importance of everyday interactions.

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Review:

There are very few short story collections for middle-grade readers. Even fewer contain stories of everyday life relatable to a middle-grade audience. Imagine how many, given that only 5% of novels contain a non-white main character, contain stories of everyday life relatable to a diverse middle-grade audience. Practically none until now. This does children a disservice. Young readers are fascinated with everyday places. Things that adults take for granted can be new and exciting to younger readers and everybody deserves to picture themselves and their home towns as part of the ‘ordinary’.

It is lucky then that this book from stellar writer Justin Reynolds is so brilliant.

Reynolds is a master at writing characters. Two pages into the first story and I felt as if I had known the characters all my life. There was overconfident, witty TJ, the kid who can’t drop a thing. And Jasmine. Reflective but angry. Not prepared to take any nonsense. The pictures in my mind felt like memories because I was so easily able to visualise them. Except Reynolds was better than that because the rest of the story developed those characters to an even deeper level until, by the end, I understood as a reader what was behind that swagger and that reflective silence.

These are also extraordinary stories for building empathy. The second story, for example, The Low Cuts Strike Again begins by introducing a gang of kids who thieve and then use the money to make even more by selling nostalgic sweets to men in pubs. Every young reader would tell you these kids are breaking rules, and yet, by the end of the story, the reader is forced to question their ideas about right and wrong. More importantly, the story asks whether we judge people too quickly.

It is important for readers to encounter stories about working-class lives that don’t assume a stance of pity or superiority. We are surrounded by these on a daily basis, from news broadcasters playing sad music over items about the working class, to charity television features that forget to address the root causes of poverty (such as poor support and political systems) as well as addressing needs (like foodbank useage). Understanding that working lives are valid and that we need working jobs to cover monthly outgoings have never been more important and stories like the ones in Look Both Ways will go a long way towards ensuring the next generation don’t typecast working-class people.

A collection of stories about life and the wonder of everyday interactions. This is a must-have for every library and book corner.

 

Thanks to Knights Of for my copy of Look Both Ways. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2019 · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

Review: Scruffle-Nut by Corinne Fenton. Illustrated by Owen Swan.

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An elderly lady visits the park every day to remember her childhood. 

She remembers walking through the park with Nanny Clementine. She remembers the carousel and statues, and the bullies who would poke fun at her on her way home. Most of all she remembers Scruffle-Nut – the little squirrel with the stumpy tail. 

In her mind, the elderly lady is a little girl again. She’s coping with bullies of her own, so when she sees the other squirrels ganging up on one who looks more vulnerable, she makes a special point of feeding him. Every day she returns until winter drives the squirrels out of the cold. 

A nostalgic and beautiful story about childhood, bullying and time. 

The idea that we might be elderly is a strange one to young children, as is the idea that elderly people were once small. Understanding that our formative years go a large way to making us the person we are helps young readers to relate to the elder people around them. It also helps to understand that the elderly once experineced the same things we are going through now. Adults can, unintentionally, trivialise the everyday experiences of the young, so it is important for young readers to see that adults understand younger lives on some level. 

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My favourite part of this story was the girl’s bond with Scrufffle-Nut. The bonds we make with animals in childhood are important and teach us so much about life. By watching Scruffle-Nut hold his head up around the stronger squirrels, the protagonist learns new approaches to her own situation. 

The illustrations remind me a little of Raymond Briggs. Not in style so much as in tone. The faint colours of the landscape and buildings make them appear as if they have blown in from the remote past, while the girl herself, and her immediate concerns, are bolder and brighter.

This story is a winner because people of all ages will find something in it and it will grow with readers in the same way as books like The Snowman by Raymond Briggs or Grandpa by John Burningham. A beautiful book to share over the holidays and certainly a story to treasure. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Scruffle-Nut. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

Review: Meerkat Christmas by Emily Gravett.

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Sunny the meerkat of Meerkat Mail fame is back on another globe-trotting adventure.

A magazine arrives at the meerkat burrow advertising the most perfect Christmas ever. It comes complete with a checklist of what is essential to day. Dissatisfied with his family plans, Sunny packs his case and sets out into the wide world.

This story follows a similar format to the original book, with Sunny sending cards home from the different places he visits, except that this time they are Christmas cards. Emily Gravett’s books are always stellar on design and detail and this is no exception. Every Christmas card is a pleasure to open and half the excitement is in seeing what kind of card Sunny will send next. There are cracker jokes littered around the pages (on those white and red slips which seem to be so universal). I love books like this where the main illustrations are complimented by a jigsaw puzzle of things to spot.

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As for the story, I can’t think of a better theme for 2019. Aren’t we all feeling a little mediocre? Social media has given us many good things but we have also fallen prey to measuring ourselves up to posed Instagram pictures and planned out blog posts. Never mind that it took over an hour to set up the photograph. Sometimes it feels like everyone around us has neater bookselves and more beautiful homes and the picture-perfect Christmas.

Sunny finds out that what makes Christmas perfect isn’t the decorations or wrapping paper.

This book is a joy, from Sunny’s Christmas jumper to the excitement of opening the little cards. A fitting follow-up to a popular book and a timely reminder that sometimes we have to look a little closer to home – at what matters to us – to find perfection.

 

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s UK for my copy of Meerkat Christmas. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas by Dorothy Edwards. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

Review: My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas by Dorothy Edwards. Illustrated by Shirley Hughes.

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Do you know what my Naughty Little Sister did? 

This refrain is known and cherished by four generations of readers. The My Naughty Little Sister books, originally published in the 1950s, are very much of their era but they are still loved for two reasons – they are short but witty stories perfect for bedtime and they hold a certain nostalgia for childhood as it actually was. Not where everything went perfectly and everyone had a lovely time but where any given day was almost bound to end in tears and tantrums. And that was OK because everyone made up again by teatime. 

The narrator of My Naughty Little Sister gives nothing away about her own misdemeanors. Instead, she focuses on the highs and lows of living with a younger sibling. Perhaps that is a third reason that the books are so popular because elder children who have outgrown their pre-school tantrums need somewhere to turn to feel that they are not alone. I wouldn’t know. You would have to ask my own big sister. 

Naughty is a word which is, today, thankfully used only to describe behaviour and not individual children. That is the big twist in the tale – the younger child here isn’t naughty at all. She is just prone to moments of naughtiness which add drama to every outing. In My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas, for example, her worst actions stem from a fear of Father Christmas. He is the big unknown, told to her in stories, and meeting him in person proves too much. 

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At least for a little while. Father Christmas turns out to be as lovely as everybody always said and the story ends happily ever after. 

What makes the story work so well is how beautifully behaved the little sister is through most of the tale. She smiles and claps and sings more beautifully than any of the other children. With her little pig-tails and rosy cheeks, it is hard to imagine her capable of a bad thought. The reader, knowing how these stories go, waits in anticipation for the big moment when her behaviour slides. Just how terrible can a small child be?

These long-treasured books are made more popular by Shirly Hughes’s illustrations. Hughes is a legendary artist best-known for her pictures of everyday life in all its happy mayhem and warmth. Her pictures are relatable across a class-divide which is her other big draw. The children playing out or singing together could be from any neighborhood. 

A classic loved by parents and grandparents is now available in picturebook format. This will be gifted straight to my sister, who listened to the stories with me over and over … and remembered my own misdemeanors more than hers. 

 

Thanks to Egmont UK LTD for my copy of My Naughty Little Sister And Father Christmas. Opinions my own.