Board Books for Christmas

Here are three festive board books from Little Tiger – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Nibbles Christmas
Emma Yarlett

Nibbles gets all jolly and festive in this romping, chomping seasonal countdown wherein he topples the row of 10 robots, sings along with the 9 red birds , counts sleeps left till the big day with the help of the 8 stars, bounces around with the 7 bunnies and so on, taking a quick bite whenever he gets the opportunity, till we reach 1 big box beautifully wrapped and labelled. I wonder what could be found inside … It will surely be a surprise.
Emma’s mischievous toothy creature is a delight whatever the time of year so youngsters will love to meet him sporting his Santa’s hat in this rhyming Christmassy counting book.
There’s more counting fun in

Five Christmas Friends
Danielle McLean and Rosalind Maroney

Little ones can meet Santa driving his sleigh above the rooftops (just the one of course), two playful snowmen friends, 3 elves busily making presents in the workshop, four singing robins and five flying reindeer touching down alongside a house all lit up with strings of lights in this die-cut and slider book. As they manipulate the sliders, tinies might like to join in with some of Danielle McLean’s words by “ho! ho!’-ing a greeting to Santa Claus, shivering along with the snowmen, tap tap with the elves, singing along with the robins and ‘knock knock knock’-ing at the door of Little Mouse’s house where the reindeer have stopped, all of which are shown in Rosalind Maroney’s bright, jolly scenes.

What Are Santa’s Elves Made Of?
Becky Davies illustrated by Louise Angelicas

For those toddlers who stop and wonder what Santa’s special little helpers are really made of, this board book has the answers.
Having shared the book and enjoyed the final surprise pop-out spread, grown ups might even try baking some gingerbread shapes and adorning them just like the jolly elves shown herein, with their outfits made of sweets. These could then be stored away in a tin till the big day and then the lid opened at teatime to the sound of those magical jingle bells mentioned in Becky Davies rhyming narrative, with everyone present making a Christmas wish.

It’s Mine!

It’s Mine!
Emma Yarlett
Walker Books

In Emma’s new book, the ‘thing’ referred to, shown atop a hill is a mystery spherical object. Mouse is first to come upon it and deciding it can be his next meal, carts it away in his wheelbarrow claiming, “That fruit … is mighty fine. … That fruit … is mine, all mine!”

However, Frog, in need of a new wheel for his tricycle, spies the thing,

pays a call on Mouse hoping to procure the object for himself and tells him, ‘That wheel, is mine, all mine!’

Fox sees it as just the perfect new ball for a game of footie

and popping up near Frog, proceeds to claim ownership.

Then there’s Bear in need of a new chair, who decides Fox has the ideal item and says so, taking it off to use as a sit-upon.

So there we have four creatures, each strongly asserting, “It’s MINE!”.

Suddenly the thing gives a wobble, a crack, a crunch and …

Someone else is waiting in the wings to claim ownership but who is it? Well ,that would be to spoil the ending; let’s merely say that Mouse, Frog, Fox and Bear are more than happy to concede.

With its surprise ending, highly effective simple repetitive text, deliciously droll illustrations and die-cut circles ( not the work of Emma’s Nibbles character I hasten to add, they’re too regular for that) on alternate spreads, this is enormous fun to share in a story time session with young children, as well as for beginning readers to try themselves.

Santa Post

Santa Post
Emma Yarlett
Walker Books

A few days before Christmas something comes whooshing down Santa’s chimney and into the fireplace. It’s a letter from someone signing herself Amy but the vital information about what she would really like for Christmas has been burnt away, leaving Santa puzzled but determined to discover what the missing words were.

There’s certainly one person he can turn to for the help he so badly needs: Head elf Elfalfa at the North Pole. With a letter duly dispatched all he can do is wait. Meanwhile at the North Pole the elves are exceedingly busy but Alfalfa issues a toy-making request to the only one of her helpers free to assist – Elf Boggins. The little fellow does his best with what little resources are left in the almost bare cupboard and Amy’s present is back to Santa, special delivery with an attached note of explanation. Imagine Santa’s reaction when he opens the parcel and sees this …

Still determined to find the perfect present, Santa decides to ask for further help from others of his North Pole pals.

Will he ever be able to deliver to Amy what she truly longs for?

With letters and parcels to open, this joyful festive offering from Emma is sure to delight. Her splendidly expressive illustrations combined with her deliciously quirky humour evident in both words and pictures, make this a seasonal treat that will be brought out and enjoyed year after year by teachers in classrooms, and families with young children.

Beast Feast

Beast Feast
Emma Yarlett
Walker Books

Emma Yarlett serves up another yummy picture book, this time about a beast who, despite appearances, has a rather soft heart.

When said Beast catches a delicious meal he decides that rather than consuming it all by himself, he’ll invite his beastly pals to share in a ‘Beast Feast’.

Off go four invitations and it’s not long before the replies start coming. Although all the guests are eager to partake of the delicious meal, each includes as part of the response, some cooking instructions on how to make Dinner all the more wonderfully grim and grisly.

Dinner on the other hand is anything but keen to be consumed, feast or no feast.

Consequently he offers his own suggestions for improving the recipe so that it’s the juiciest, saltiest, slimiest and best chilled meal

the Beast’s demanding guests are hoping for on feast day.

But can he succeed in saving his skin with his playful notions …

With her own yummy ingredients – a smashing story, endearing main characters and crazy items of correspondence – Emma Yarlett’s lip-smacking offering, whether shared around Halloween time or on other occasions, will be met with demands for immediate extra helpings from story-hungry youngsters.

(Don’t miss the recipes – disgusting and yummy – inside the front and back covers.)

Nibbles: The Monster Hunt

Nibbles: The Monster Hunt
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press

Uh-oh! Emma Yarlett’s Nibbles, the monster is on the loose again and he’s managed to find his way into a little boy’s bedroom where quite clearly, he’s been indulging himself with the furnishings and his favourite fodder, books. Not just any books however but the boy’s very favourite information book.

Time to get on his trail before he destroys the whole thing completely and creates mayhem in so doing.

What follows is a breathless chase that has boy and monster hurtling through space,

dashing past dogs and cats, gallivanting into the realms of artistry, cascading into colour mixing,

diving into a counting book, where thanks to some quick thinking on Nibbles’ part, the boy and the monster narrowly escape the flaming jaws of the dragon that has been in hot pursuit since Nibbles inadvertently set him free in the art section.

So much for preventing hayhem!

Full of fascinating snippets of information, jokes, speech bubbles, flaps and holes – of course, holes – readers will relish this latest adventure of the monster with a wicked grin and voracious appetite. There’s surely something to satisfy all tastes and a wide age range in this one.

Nibbles Numbers / Little Fish and Mummy / Where’s Mr Duck?

Nibbles Numbers
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press

Emma Yarlett’s little yellow book-eating monster Nibbles is back and now he’s got his teeth into a board book. One might think that chomping through card would be a challenge too far but no. Once released the little fellow immediately starts sinking his gnashers into the pages and even has the audacity to nibble into the numerals leaving fairly sizeable holes.

Moreover he’s sabotaging our counting practice and just when we think we’ve cornered the little munching rascal, he makes a dive for it and disappears through the final spread, only to emerge on the back cover with a satisfied grin on his face.

Smashing fun and what a delight to be able to introduce my favourite little monster Nibbles to a younger audience.

Little Fish and Mummy
Lucy Cousins
Walker Books

The latest Little Fish book is narrated by none other than Little Fish who is particularly excited about sharing with listeners a ‘Mummy Fish and me’ day.

This special day is spent on lessons in swimming and bubble blowing, splishing and splashing with all the other fish, a game of hide-and-seek just with Mum and a look inside a deep down cave.

What better way to end such a great day than with a round of kissing – ‘Kiss, kiss, kiss!’

Irresistible if you know a little one who’s a fan of Lucy Cousins’ endearing spotty Little Fish, and I certainly know a lot of those.

Where’s Mr Duck?
Ingela P Arrhenius
Nosy Crow

The latest felt flap hide-and-seek board book in this deservedly popular series is set around the pond. In its environs little ones can discover Mrs Butterfly, Mr Frog,

Mrs Worm, Mr Duck and finally as the creatures look on, him or herself.

With its characteristic question and answer format, a wealth of opportunities for developing language, bold bright art and satisfying conclusion it’s no wonder the series is such a success; this one will be as popular as its predecessors.

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide

Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press

Hurrah! Nibbles the book-eating monster returns in a new story and once again the help of readers is enlisted to try and catch him; this time because the little monster is in danger of becoming a dinosaur’s next meal.

First he invades the Triceratops chapter from where he beats a hasty retreat when hotly pursued by not one but ten ‘hot-headed’, big bummed, stompy-footed creatures.

From there he moves to Diplodocus territory wherein the danger is from accidental consumption by the residents whose herby treat he sinks his gnashers in to.

Watch out for super-powerful Diplodocus parps, Nibbles!

The little monster’s definitely not out of danger yet: intruding upon dozing velociraptors is tantamount to suicidal.

However a hole in the page indicates Nibbles has made it out alive; but there’s worse to come.

So is that the end of our favourite book monster? Errm – let’s just say, it’s fortunate that, despite first appearances, a certain T.Rex is not totally omnivorous …

Goodness, gracious – great balls of fire!

Like Nibbles’ debut picture book, this one is totally engrossing and given the topic, the dinosaur details, the flaps to explore, the plethora of jokes and speech bubbles scattered throughout the illustrations, it’s likely to appeal across a wide age range.
I’ve had to read it dozens of times already to satisfy the demands of ‘Again!’ by enthusiastic listeners whose ages range from two to seven.

Nibbles The Book Monster

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Nibbles The Book Monster
Emma Yarlett
Little Tiger Press
Emma Yarlett creates metafictive magic and mayhem with her latest character – a certain munching, crunching book monster, aka Nibbles, no less. He inhabits – or is supposed to inhabit – the book of the title but because of his particular penchant for all things literary …

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he’s chomped his way out and is already starting to invade …


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You can imagine the reaction of that bear trio when they arrive back from their walk to discover …

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But the little blighter has hastily removed himself from the scene and is visiting another cottage having first procured a cloak of a telltale hue.

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Seems he’s managed to make rather a hit with one of the characters there and totally transformed another. But oh dearie me, somebody in that book isn’t at all impressed with our show-stealing invader so he’s done another runner – in a vertical direction this time… and there made his mark in rather an indelicate spot (or should that be ‘bot’?) before hot footing it, or actually being escorted (thanks to that golden goose) right back where he started …

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Err …

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Well you can’t keep a good nibbler down – or in, can you? A cracking book through and through … and through… and …
Emma Yarlett’s best yet methinks.

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Some book monsters imagined by listeners before we shared the story.





Poppy Pickle

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Poppy Pickle
Emma Yarlett
Templar Publishing
Joyful exuberance leaps out from this one right from the start – despite the downpour. I guess I was predisposed to loving it after reading ‘A little girl with a BIG imagination’ on the cover. This small girl’s imagination knows no bounds when she’s banished to her bedroom for some high-spirited imaginings …

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Before long, her entire room is crammed with all kinds of crazy creatures and Poppy is in her element.

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But good things don’t go on forever as our heroine discovers all too soon. Totally diverting delight turns to utter disaster as her mum and dad begin to twig that’s she’s not actually tidying her room as instructed.

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However, imagining things isn’t a reversible reaction as Poppy discovers when she tries some desperate ‘un-imagining.’ Equally unsuccessful is the imagined giant eraser ploy; is it all up for Poppy then? Fortunately, not quite.: we have been told she has a BIG imagination so, in the nick of time there follows a light-bulb moment …

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But that still leaves a lot of explaining to do …
Oh, and the after tea tidying up, and the dressing down; but even that doesn’t dent our young heroine’s unsquashable imagination – hurray for Poppy say I. ‘TA-DAH!
Wonderful idea – wonderfully delivered in a deliciously droll and direct manner, and wonderfully wackily and wittily portrayed.
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

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Mums and Grandmas

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Mummy’s Home!
Christopher MacGregor and Emma Yarlett
Picture Corgi pbk
This is by way of a companion volume to Daddy’s Going Away from the same author/artist partnership, only herein it is Dad who is left in charge when Mum is elsewhere. Again we share the feelings of an alien child narrator as she assists her mum (and herself) prepare for the departure; and then it’s over to Dad to keep the ship afloat

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and provide jellybeans to help in the countdown until her return. In the meantime of course, there are letters and phone calls to be exchanged,

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not to mention emails.
Having a Mum who comes and goes like the one in this rhyming story is very hard for children of all ages to cope with but this particular family are up front and talk about everything; and that helps enormously. But at last, there are preparations for Mum’s homecoming to get under way

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and then …

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In setting the story in a virtual alien world, as Emma Yarlett does, she somehow allows children more easily to enter that place from which to become aware, the space which is so important for young children to be able to access that is provided by a good story.

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Alfie and Grandma
Shirley Hughes
Red Fox pbk
This is more of a repackaging than completely new material in that it brings together three previously published stories which focus on Alfie’s relationship with his Gran; it’s a treat (especially for Grans and their grandchildren) to have them in one book nevertheless. And if you are an Alfie fan and don’t already have the books these tales originally appeared in, then you’ll surely want to have this one.
In the first story, we join Alfie, Annie Rose and Grandma as they help a neighbour hunt for her missing tortoise, Winnie. They spend all day looking but to no avail and at suppertime Alfie in particular, is very upset. So, after supper, Grandma takes them on one last Winnie hunt before bedtime. Alfie fears the animal might have fallen into a ditch somewhere

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but an exhaustive search along the road yields nothing so they start back empty-handed.
Then, Alfie stops to look carefully at the stones in Mrs Hall’s cottage garden; one of them certainly isn’t white like the others, so could it perhaps be…
The second story is a delightful description of Alfie, Annie Rose and Grandmas’ wet day as the rainy outdoor adventure they start out on gives way to a rather drier, indoor one that takes them on A Journey

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to the North Pole, which also serves as Grandma’s attic.
Alfie and Gran assist a strayed sheep with a mind of its own get back to the rest of the flock

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in the third story and the book ends with a map showing Grandma’s House and all the places around it that have been mentioned in the episodes, helping to put everything in context.
Pure pleasure, as are all things Alfie.

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Grandma in Blue with Red Hat
Scott Menchin and Harry Bliss
Abrams Books
The boy narrator of this story goes to a Saturday morning art class at the museum, an exciting activity where his teacher maintains that “Anything can be art. Toys, hair clips, guitars, water bottles. Anything”. After some musings on the part of the narrator, there follows a discussion among the children about art and artists. “… it’s beautiful.” says one, “different,” another thinks;

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but it can also tell a story, come from far away, make you feel good, be funny or unique, suggest others.
This discussion induces in the young protagonist an interesting, indeed inspiring notion. His Grandma ought to be in the museum, he decides and even goes so far as to suggest it to the museum curator. Fortunately for both boy and Grandma, his offer is rejected and the boy has a much better idea. His beautiful, different, funny, story-telling relation who makes him feel good and comes from far away can instead become the subject for an exhibition to celebrate her amazingness.
And so she does, when the young narrator puts together an entire mixed-media collection.
DSCN4153 (800x600)DSCN4152 (800x600)Bliss in contrast, uses watercolour and pen and ink for his re-creations of famous works of art, and the human characters who populate the story. In combination with Menchin’s minimal text and speech bubbles, this author/artist partnership offers young readers the opportunity to become art critics as well as perhaps inspiring them to venture down the creative path with some family portraits of their own making. And one thing all readers are likely to come away with is an abiding memory that Picasso “liked to paint in his underwear.”

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Fun, expansive empowering and inspiring.

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Two Dark Tales


Orion and the Dark
Emma Yarlett
Templar Publishing pbk
The idea that dark is all embracing is wonderfully demonstrated in this story wherein we join young Orion as he confronts his greatest fear.


(There’s a nod to Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen’s The Dark here.)
I’ve had enough of you DARK! I wish you and your SCARY SOUNDS, your MURKY MONSTERS and your PITCH BLACKNESS would just GO Away!” he yells into the darkness of his bedroom and beyond. Dark however, has other plans and slips in through the skylight. Imagine how Orion is feeling right then. Despite his fear almost beyond imagining, Orion is a well-mannered lad and holds out his hand to greet his visitor. So begins an adventure wherein thanks to the intruder, Orion discovers that some of the darkest places can actually be fun. And those scary bangs, rustles, creaks, growls and all the other scary outside noises are not at all frightening. Just one more job to do now …
Off the two soar, into the night sky – the darkest of all places and it’s there that Orion really and truly concludes that even he cannot possibly be scared of his new friend DARK, a friend that will never be far off and will always return bang on time.


There is plenty to amuse and just that slight frisson of fear for readers within the covers of this one. Children particularly delight in the large reaching hand of Dark as it moves across the page to shake Orion’s hand


and to bid him au revoir at the end of the “SUPER DUPER, SPIFFADOCIUS, INCREDAMUNDO”, as our young narrator describes his adventure.
If you share this story with a group make sure they have opportunities to explore the wealth of detail – visual and verbal – in and around the illustrations; indeed in many places, words and pictures are an integrated whole. I love the benevolent, almost amorphous portrayal of Dark, Orion’s notepad jottings and sketchbook problem-solving ‘thinks’ bubbles,


oh, and the scatterings of stars – on the narrator’s onesie and in other places throughout; pretty much the whole inky everything in fact.
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The Duck and the Darklings
Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King
Allen and Unwin
Dark in this story is a place, not a comfortable place but a broken, battered one and has been so for a very long time. In this land of Dark, in a loving hole, lives a small child, Peterboy with his Grandpapa; the two share everything. Peterboy goes out with his fellow ‘Darkling childs’ searching the finding fields for things that will bring light to Grandpapa’s eyes: this he does by painting word pictures of things from the outside. Then one day he returns with not quite the scrap of wonderfulness he’d searched and wished for : instead he brings a very poorly Idaduck with little more than hope for a heartbeat. Grandpapa agrees to let her stay only till she’s better, warning of attachment and wanderlust.


So, Idaduck stays.


Grandpapa mends: Idaduck comforts. As Grandpapa’s happiness grows so too does his fondness for the duck but Peterboy is troubled, knowing the emptiness that will be left if she goes.
Tell her about the long-ago,” he begs, so Grandpapa draws on his ‘magnificent remembery’ setting free ‘a symphony of stories’ until all his tales are told. Even so the wind calls to their beloved Ida. Peterboy and duck sit sadly side by side in the darkness till Grandpapa suggests a fare-thee-well never to be ‘disremembered’, one which will cause the stars to shine when people talk of it.
Peterboy summons all the Darklings, old and young, wearing their candle hats, to a clearing for a great gathering.


There’s dancing and singing and then Peterboy tells them all of Idaduck; how she has reignited the stars in Grandpapa’s eyes and that now the time has come to bid her farewell. Standing stock still, the old ones are ashamed at the hurt they’ve done to the earth and seeing how now, forests and flowers have grown anew healing earth’s wounds. And then it’s time for Idaduck to take to the air.


Off she soars watched by those below who now have hearts full, not of dark but of hope.
Occasionally a picture book comes along that moves me to tears; this is one of those rare ones that does just that and not only at the first reading…
Indeed reading Glenda Millard’s words aloud is like having a small symphony playing in one’s ears so memorable are they and so melodic. This is truly a story that reverberates long after the book has been put down and one to return to over and over.
Beautiful too are King’s mixed-media illustrations, which, like the relationships between Grandpapa, Peterboy and Idaduck, exude tenderness and love.


These finely drawn characters stand out starkly against the all-encompassing dark that surrounds them at the start as well as the glorious glow of sunlight and hope of the book’s final pages.
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Here are two picture books that I would want to have in any setting where there are young children. Both deal with separation and each has come about as the result of direct experience. Most children will at some time have to face an extended temporary absence of one or other parent. Indeed I can well remember times when my own father (who worked for an airline) was sent on overseas assignments and how much he was missed.


My Daddy’s Going Away
Christoper MacGregor and Emma Yarlett
The small child alien narrator of this story shares experiences of having an absent father. We hear about preparations and packing, saying goodbye, keeping in touch, staying strong, missing each other, anticipating the return and crossing off the days, getting ready for a welcome celebration and finally, home at last.
The overall tenor of the rhyming text is upbeat – a mix of humour and pathos – and grew out of a poem Lieutenant Colonel Chris MacGregor wrote and recorded before being separated from his own two children during a six-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2007. What comes across loud and clear is that it is love that keeps everything together.


Emma Yarlett’s alien world is intriguing and seems to be set somewhere between outer space and under water with spaceships, fish and tentacle creatures abounding and the featured family sporting antennae and tails. This makes it somehow a safer place in which to explore the emotions of separation and assuredly, this book offers an excellent starting point for discussion.
The book is endorsed by HRH The Prince of Wales and the author gives ideas, support and things to do as well as further information about what inspired him on
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Two Nests
Laurence Anholt and Jim Coplestone
Frances Lincoln pbk.
A pair of birds sits in a tree as the autumn leaves fall. Betty requests a nest to snuggle in; Paul builds one and the two cosy up for the long winter. Spring brings cherry blossom and a rumbly feeling in Betty’s tum. A few weeks later there is a new baby; Betty sings it a song of love. However, the nest becomes an unhappy place – too small for three and the parents are squabbling. Paul decides to move out and a new nest is built. Now there are three sad birds but Betty sings her little one another song. The message is loud and clear: “WE BOTH LOVE YOU.” The cherries ripen and Baby sprouts wings. Now s/he is able to visit both homes and spend time with each parent.
Jaunty verses and amusing illustrations help make this topic accessible to very young children. Parental separation is not an easy issue and here we have a sensitive treatment presented through the medium of a story that nursery age children can relate to and enjoy. The important message is that no matter where they live, there are two parents who love them and it is those parents, and not their offspring, who are responsible for the separation.
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