‘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 my about one Christmas-time when I was a little girl, and my naughty little sister was a very little girl.’
Originally published in the first volume of My Naughty Little Sister in 1952, this Christmas themed story tells you everything you need to know about Dorothy Edwards’ enduring pre-school terror.
Shirley Hughes writes in the introduction to her 2019 picture book adaptation that my naughty little sister is ‘not so very naughty really, so much as extremely determined to get what she wants.’ As this story climaxes with the child biting the hand of Father Christmas after he has given her the doll that she wants, I would argue that naughty probably is the right adjective here.
‘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 very awful thing about her – she didn’t like to think about Father Christmas at all – she said he was a horrid old man!’
I wonder if many small children feel like this about the furtive arrival in their bedrooms of a bearded stranger in a tatty red coat and furs? Perhaps it is understandable that she is not keen on meeting this ‘Father Christmas Man’ when he visits her elder sister’s school.
‘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.”‘
This plan goes awry as My Naughty Little Sister is distracted by the promise of presents and quite forgets about the Father Christmas Man’s arrival. Shirley Hughes’s original illustration from the late 1960s goes some way to explaining the extreme reaction that follows. Compared to the kinder, softer picture book remake (top) he looks a rather severe guardian of the tree and its present lined boughs. But with her eyes set firmly on the prize, she decides to face her fears.
‘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 Father Christmas Man was standing, and she said, ‘That doll, please.’
The final score is My Naughty Little Sister 1 – 0 Father Christmas Man. Although she appears to mellow in the aftermath of the biting incident, our heroine gets what she wants in the end. You can almost hear the conspiratorial humour in Dorothy Edwards’ voice as she asks readers whether they can think of ‘anything more dreadful’. Shirley Hughes spent time with the author and remembers her like this.
‘There was nothing cosy about her wit or her acute powers of observation. She was very funny, full of salty inconsequential remarks, a born raconteur. She told me memorable anecdotes about her childhood. She, of course, was the Naughty Little Sister.’
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