Day Three of the best stories to read YOUR children this Christmas

From the Wind in the Willows to Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Day Three of our exclusive extracts from the best stories to read YOUR children this festive season

The naughty little girl who made Santa yell OWWW!

My Naughty Little Sister, by Dorothy Edwards 

Dorothy Edwards wrote her first Naughty Little Sister collection of stories in 1952 for her daughter. They were based on her younger sister Phyllis, known as Pip, but the little girl in the books is never actually given a name. Here she visits Father Christmas with dramatic consequences . . .

This is such a very terrible story about my naughty little sister that I hardly know how to tell it to you. It is all about one Christmas-time when I was a little girl, and my naughty little sister was a very little girl.

Now, my naughty little sister was very pleased when Christmas began to draw near, because she liked all the excitement of the plum-puddings and the turkeys, and the crackers and the holly, and all the Christmassy-looking shops, but there was one awful thing about her — she didn’t like to think about Father Christmas at all — she said he was a horrid old man!

There — I knew you would be shocked at that. But she did. And she said she wouldn’t put up her stocking for him.

The naughty little girl who made Santa yell OWWW! My Naughty Little Sister, by Dorothy Edwards

My mother told my naughty little sister what a good old man Father Christmas was, and how he brought the toys along on Christmas Eve, but my naughty little sister said: ‘I don’t care. And I don’t want that nasty old man coming into our house.’

Well now, that was bad enough, wasn’t it? But the really dreadful thing happened later on.

This is the dreadful thing: one day, my school-teacher said that a Father Christmas Man would be coming to school to bring presents for all the children, and my teacher said that the Father Christmas Man would have toys for all our little brothers and sisters as well, if they cared to come along for them. She said that there would be a real Christmas tree with candles on it, and sweeties and cups of tea and biscuits for our mothers.

Wasn’t that a nice thought? Well now, when I told my little sister about the Christmas tree, she said: ‘Oh, nice!’ And when I told her about the sweeties she said: ‘Very, very nice!’

But when I told her about the Father Christmas Man, she said: ‘Don’t want him, nasty old man.’

Still, my mother said, ‘You can’t go to the Christmas tree without seeing him, so if you don’t want to see him all that much, you will have to stay at home.’

But my naughty little sister did want to go, very much, so she said: ‘I will go, and when the horrid Father Christmas Man comes in, I will close my eyes.’

So, we all went to the Christmas tree together, my mother and I, and my naughty little sister.

When we got to the school, my naughty little sister was very pleased to see all the pretty paper-chains that we had made in school hung all around the classrooms, and when she saw all the little lanterns, and the holly and all the robin-redbreast drawings pinned on the blackboards she smiled and smiled. She was very smiley at first.

All the mothers, and the little brothers and sisters who were too young for school sat down on chairs and desks, and all the big school-children acted a play for them.

My little sister was very excited to see all the children dressed up as fairies and robins and elves and bo-peeps and things, and she clapped her hands very hard, like all the grown-ups did, to show that she was enjoying herself. And she still smiled. Then, when some of the teachers came round with bags of sweets, tied up in pretty coloured paper, my little sister smiled even more, and she sang too when all the children sang.

She sang Away in a Manger, because she knew the words very well. When she didn’t know the words of some of the singing, she ‘la-la’d’.

After all the singing, the teachers put out the lights, and took away a big screen from a corner of the room, and there was the Christmas tree, all lit up with candles and shining with little shiny coloured balls. There were lots of toys on the tree, and all of the children cheered and clapped.

Then the teachers put the lights on again, and blew out the candles, so that we could all go and look at the tree. My little sister went too. She looked at the tree, and she looked at the toys, and she saw a specially nice doll with a blue dress on, and she said: ‘For Me.’

My mother said, ‘You must wait and see what you are given.’

Then the teachers called out: ‘Back to your seats, everyone, we have a visitor coming.’ So all the children went back to their seats, and sat still and waited and listened.

And, as we waited and listed, we heard a little tinkle-tinkle bell noise, and then the schoolroom door opened, and in walked the Father Christmas Man.

My naughty little sister had forgotten about him, so she hadn’t had time to close her eyes before he walked in.

However, when she saw him, my little sister stopped smiling

and began to be stubborn. The Father Christmas Man was very nice. He said he hoped we were having a good time, and we all said, ‘Yes,’ except my naughty little sister — she didn’t say a thing.

Then he said: ‘Now, one at a time, children; I will give each one of you a toy.’

So, first of all each school-child went up for a toy, and my naughty little sister still didn’t shut her eyes because she wanted to see who was going to have the specially nice doll in the blue dress. But none of the school children had it.

The Father Christmas Man began to call the little brothers and sisters up for presents, and, as he didn’t know their names, he just said ‘come along, sonny’ if it were a boy, and ‘come along, girlie’ if it were a girl. The Father Christmas Man let the little brothers and sisters choose their own toys off the tree.

When my naughty little sister saw this, she was so worried about the specially nice doll, that she thought she would just go up and get it. She said: ‘I don’t like that horrid old beardy man, but I do like that nice doll.’

So, my naughty little sister got up without being asked to, and she went right out to the front where the Father Christmas Man was standing, and she said: ‘That doll, please,’ and pointed to the doll she wanted.

The Father Christmas Man laughed and all the teachers laughed, and the other mothers and the school-children, and all the little brothers and sisters. My mother did not laugh because she was so shocked to see my naughty little sister going out without being asked to.

The Father Christmas Man took the specially nice doll off the tree, and he handed it to my naughty little sister and he said: ‘Well, now, I hear you don’t like me very much, but won’t you just shake hands?’ and my naughty little sister said: ‘No.’ But she took the doll all the same.

The Father Christmas Man put out his nice old hand for her to shake and be friends, and do you know what that naughty bad girl did? She bit his hand. She really and truly did.

Can you think of anything more dreadful and terrible? She bit Father Christmas’s good old hand, and then she turned and ran out of the school with all the children staring after her, and her doll held very tight in her arms.

The Father Christmas Man was very nice, he said it wasn’t a hard bite, only a frightened one, and he made all the children sing songs together.

When my naughty little sister was brought back by my mother, she said she was very sorry, and the Father Christmas Man said: ‘That’s all right, old lady,’ and because he was so smiley and nice to her, my funny little sister went right up to him, and gave him a big ‘sorry’ kiss, which pleased him very much.

And she hung her stocking up after all, and that kind man remembered to fill it for her. My naughty little sister kept the specially nice doll until she was quite grown-up. She called it Rosy-Primrose, and although she was sometimes bad-tempered with it, she really loved it very much indeed.

My Naughty Little Sister Collection by Dorothy Edwards is published by Egmont at £8.99. © 1952 Dorothy Edwards. To order a copy for £7.19 (20 per cent discount), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FREE premium delivery. Offer valid until December 17, 2018.


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Carol singers who made Mole’s heart sing with Christmas joy

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame 

The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame was first published in 1908 and has since been adapted for the stage and for several films. As a child, Grahame lived by the River Thames and his story conjures up the life of riverside creatures. In this extract, Mole and his friend Ratty return at Christmas to the house Mole left when he went to live with Rat — and he realises, despite the neglected state of it, how much he has missed the familiar comforts of his home.

Mole’s face beamed at the sight of all these objects so dear to him, and he hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took one glance round his old home.

He saw the dust lying thick on everything, saw the cheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected house, and its narrow, meagre dimensions, its worn and shabby contents — and collapsed again on a hall-chair, his nose to his paws.

‘O Ratty!’ he cried dismally, ‘why ever did I do it? Why did I bring you to this poor, cold little place, on a night like this, when you might have been at River Bank by this time, toasting your toes before a blazing fire, with all your own nice things about you!’

The Rat paid no heed to his doleful self-reproaches. He was running here and there, opening doors, inspecting rooms and cupboards, and lighting lamps and candles and sticking them up everywhere.

‘What a capital little house this is!’ he called out cheerily. ‘So compact! So well planned! Everything here and everything in its place! We’ll make a jolly night of it. The first thing we want is a good fire; I’ll see to that — I always know where to find things.

‘So this is the parlour? Splendid! Your own idea, those little sleeping-bunks in the wall? Capital! Now, I’ll fetch the wood and the coals, and you get a duster, Mole — you’ll find one in the drawer of the kitchen table — and try and smarten things up a bit. Bustle about, old chap!’

Carol singers who made Mole’s heart sing with Christmas joy. The Wind in The Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Encouraged by his inspiriting companion, the Mole roused himself and dusted and polished with energy and heartiness, while the Rat, running to and fro with armfuls of fuel, soon had a cheerful blaze roaring up the chimney.

He hailed the Mole to come and warm himself; but Mole promptly had another fit of the blues, dropping down on a couch in dark despair and burying his face in his duster.

‘Rat,’ he moaned, ‘how about your supper, you poor, cold, hungry, weary animal? I’ve nothing to give you — nothing — not a crumb!’

‘What a fellow you are for giving in!’ said the Rat reproachfully. ‘Why, only just now I saw a sardine-opener on the kitchen dresser, quite distinctly; and everybody knows that means there are sardines about somewhere in the neighbourhood. Rouse yourself! Pull yourself together, and come with me and forage.’

They went and foraged accordingly, hunting through every cupboard and turning out every drawer. The result was not so very depressing after all, though of course it might have been better; a tin of sardines — a box of captain’s biscuits, nearly full — and a German sausage encased in silver paper.

‘There’s a banquet for you!’ observed the Rat, as he arranged the table. ‘I know some animals who would give their ears to be sitting down to supper with us tonight!’

‘No bread!’ groaned the Mole dolorously; ‘no butter, no —’

‘No pate de foie gras, no champagne!’ continued the Rat, grinning. ‘And that reminds me — what’s that little door at the end of the passage? Your cellar, of course! Every luxury in this house! Just you wait a minute.’

He made for the cellar-door, and presently reappeared, somewhat dusty, with a bottle of beer in each paw and another under each arm, ‘Self-indulgent beggar you seem to be, Mole,’ he observed. ‘Deny yourself nothing. This is really the jolliest little place I ever was in.

‘Now, wherever did you pick up those prints? Make the place look so home-like, they do. No wonder you’re so fond of it, Mole. Tell us all about it, and how you came to make it what it is.’

Then, while the Rat busied himself fetching plates, and knives and forks, and mustard, which he mixed in an egg-cup, the Mole, his bosom still heaving with the stress of his recent emotion, related — somewhat shyly at first, but with more freedom as he warmed to his subject — how this was planned, and how that was thought out, and how this was got through a windfall from an aunt, and that was a wonderful find and a bargain, and this other thing was bought out of laborious savings and a certain amount of ‘going without’.

The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame was first published in 1908 and has since been adapted for the stage and for several films

His spirits finally quite restored, he must needs go and caress his possessions, and take a lamp and show off their points to his visitor and expatiate on them, quite forgetful of the supper they both so much needed; Rat, who was desperately hungry but strove to conceal it, nodding seriously, examining with a puckered brow, and saying, ‘wonderful’, and ‘most remarkable’, at intervals, when the chance for an observation was given him.

At last the Rat succeeded in decoying him to the table, and had just got seriously to work with the sardine-opener when sounds were heard from the fore-court without — sounds like the scuffling of small feet in the gravel and a confused murmur of tiny voices, while broken sentences reached them — ‘Now, all in a line — hold the lantern up a bit, Tommy — clear your throats first — no coughing after I say one, two, three. — Where’s young Bill? — Here, come on, do, we’re all a-waiting —’

‘What’s up?’ inquired the Rat, pausing in his labours.

‘I think it must be the field-mice,’ replied the Mole, with a touch of pride in his manner. ‘They go round carol-singing regularly at this time of the year. They’re quite an institution in these parts. And they never pass me over — they come to Mole End last of all; and I used to give them hot drinks, and supper too sometimes, when I could afford it. It will be like old times to hear them again.’

‘Let’s have a look at them!’ cried the Rat, jumping up and running to the door. It was a pretty sight, and a seasonable one, that met their eyes when they flung the door open.

In the forecourt, lit by the dim rays of horn lantern, some eight or ten little field-mice stood in a semicircle, red worsted comforters round their throats, their fore-paws thrust deep into their pockets, their feet jigging for warmth. With bright beady eyes they glanced shyly at each other, sniggering a little, sniffing and applying coat-sleeves a good deal.

As the door opened, one of the elder ones that carried the lantern was just saying, ‘Now then, one, two, three!’ and forthwith their shrill little voices uprose on the air, singing one of the old-time carols that their forefathers composed in fields that were fallow and held by frost, or when snow-bound in chimney corners, and handed down to be sung in the miry street to lamp-lit windows at Yule-time.

CAROL

Villagers all, this frosty tide,

Let your doors swing open wide,

Though wind may follow, and snow beside,

Yet draw us in by your fire to bide;

Joy shall be yours in the morning!

Here we stand in the cold and the sleet,

Blowing fingers and stamping feet,

Come from far away you to greet—

You by the fire and we in the street—

Bidding you joy in the morning!

For ere one half of the night was gone,

Sudden a star has led us on,

Raining bliss and benison—

Bliss to-morrow and more anon,

Joy for every morning!

Goodman Joseph toiled through the snow —

Saw the star o’er a stable low;

Mary she might not further go —

Welcome thatch, and litter below!

Joy was hers in the morning!

And then they heard the angels tell

‘Who were the first to cry NOWELL?

Animals all, as it befell,

In the stable where they did dwell!

Joy shall be theirs in the morning!’

The voices ceased, the singers, bashful but smiling, exchanged sidelong glances, and silence succeeded — for a moment only. Then, from up above and far away, down the tunnel they had so lately travelled was borne to their ears in a faint musical hum the sound of distant bells ringing a joyful and clangorous peal.

‘Very well sung, boys!’ cried the Rat heartily. ‘And now come along in, all of you, and warm yourselves by the fire, and have something hot!’

‘Yes, come along, field-mice,’ cried the Mole eagerly. ‘This is quite like old times! Shut the door after you. Pull up that settle to the fire. Now, you just wait a minute, while we — O, Ratty!’ he cried in despair, plumping down on a seat, with tears impending. ‘Whatever are we doing? We’ve nothing to give them!’

‘You leave all that to me,’ said the masterful Rat. ‘Here, you with the lantern! Come over this way. I want to talk to you. Now, tell me, are there any shops open at this hour of the night?’

‘Why, certainly, sir,’ replied the field-mouse respectfully. ‘At this time of the year our shops keep open to all sorts of hours.’

‘Then look here!’ said the Rat. ‘You go off at once, you and your lantern, and you get me—’

ere much muttered conversation ensued, and the Mole only heard bits of it, such as — ‘Fresh, mind! — no, a pound of that will do — see you get Buggins’s, for I won’t have any other — no, only the best — if you can’t get it there, try somewhere else — yes, of course, home-made, no tinned stuff — well then, do the best you can!’

Finally, there was a chink of coin passing from paw to paw, the field-mouse was provided with an ample basket for his purchases, and off he hurried, he and his lantern.

The rest of the field-mice, perched in a row on the settle, their small legs swinging, gave themselves up to enjoyment of the fire, and toasted their chilblains till they tingled; while the Mole, failing to draw them into easy conversation, plunged into family history and made each of them recite the names of his numerous brothers, who were too young, it appeared, to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year, but looked forward very shortly to winning the parental consent.

The Rat, meanwhile, was busy examining the label on one of the beer bottles. ‘I perceive this to be Old Burton,’ he remarked approvingly. ‘SENSIBLE Mole! The very thing! Now we shall be able to mull some ale! Get the things ready, Mole, while I draw the corks.’

It did not take long to prepare the brew and thrust the tin heater well into the red heart of the fire; and soon every field-mouse was sipping and coughing and choking (for a little mulled ale goes a long way) and wiping his eyes and laughing and forgetting he had ever been cold in all his life.

‘They act plays, too, these fellows,’ the Mole explained to the Rat. ‘Make them up all by themselves, and act them afterwards. And very well they do it, too!

‘They gave us a capital one last year, about a field-mouse who was captured at sea by a Barbary corsair, and made to row in a galley; and when he escaped and got home again, his lady-love had gone into a convent. Here, YOU! You were in it, I remember. Get up and recite a bit.’

The field-mouse addressed got up on his legs, giggled shyly, looked round the room, and remained absolutely tongue-tied. His comrades cheered him on, Mole coaxed and encouraged him, and the Rat went so far as to take him by the shoulders and shake him; but nothing could overcome his stage-fright.

They were all busily engaged on him like watermen applying the Royal Humane Society’s regulations to a case of long submersion, when the latch clicked, the door opened, and the field-mouse with the lantern reappeared, staggering under the weight of his basket.

There was no more talk of play-acting once the very real and solid contents of the basket had been tumbled out on the table.

Under the generalship of Rat, everybody was set to do something or to fetch something.

In a very few minutes supper was ready, and Mole, as he took the head of the table in a sort of a dream, saw a lately barren board set thick with savoury comforts; saw his little friends’ faces brighten and beam as they fell to without delay; and then let himself loose — for he was famished indeed — on the provender so magically provided, thinking what a happy home-coming this had turned out, after all.

A s they ate, they talked of old times, and the field-mice gave him the local gossip up to date, and answered as well as they could the hundred questions he had to ask them.

The Rat said little or nothing, only taking care that each guest had what he wanted, and plenty of it, and that Mole had no trouble or anxiety about anything.

They clattered off at last, very grateful and showering wishes of the season, with their jacket pockets stuffed with remembrances for the small brothers and sisters at home.

When the door had closed on the last of them and the chink of the lanterns had died away, Mole and Rat kicked the fire up, drew their chairs in, brewed themselves a last nightcap of mulled ale, and discussed the events of the long day.

At last the Rat, with a tremendous yawn, said: ‘Mole, old chap, I’m ready to drop. Sleepy is simply not the word. That your own bunk over on that side? Very well, then, I’ll take this. What a ripping little house this is! Everything so handy!’ 

Extracted from The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame.

How to put out a fire… with snowballs 

A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas 

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas recorded A Child’s Christmas In Wales, based on his own boyhood in Swansea, for the radio in 1952. Here he and his friends are distracted from causing mischief at Christmas by a local fire.

It was on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas.

December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, although there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slide and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes.

 Welsh poet Dylan Thomas recorded A Child’s Christmas In Wales, based on his own boyhood in Swansea, for the radio in 1952

The wise cats never appeared. We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows — eternal, ever since Wednesday — that we never heard Mrs Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbour’s polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder. ‘Fire!’ cried Mrs Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, towards the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii.

This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

It’s a cracker: Who hides in the bakery at Christmas? A mince spy!

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, ‘A fine Christmas!’ and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

‘Call the fire brigade,’ cried Mrs Prothero as she beat the gong. ‘They won’t be here,’ said Mr Prothero, ‘it’s Christmas.’

There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr Prothero standing in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.

‘Do something,’ he said.

And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke — I think we missed Mr Prothero — and ran out of the house to the telephone box.

‘Let’s call the police as well,’ Jim said.

‘And the ambulance.’

‘And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires.’

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on.

Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim’s Aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them.

Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said: ‘Would you like anything to read?’ 

Extracted from A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas Illustrated by Peter Bailey published by Orion at £7.99. Text © The Dylan Thomas Trust 1950, illustrations © Peter Bailey 2014.

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