CHILDREN’S FICTION//Children of Winter- Berlie Doherty


Recently I had a sudden wave of nostalgia for the books I read as a kid; I suppose it was because the world is so horrific and being a grown up sometimes feels so dreary and unmagical. I had fond memories of two books in particular- but I couldn’t remember either book. I knew I had read this one when I was in about Year 4 and all I could remember was that it was about three children hiding from the plague in a barn.  Anyway, happily a Google search of ‘three children in a barn, hiding from plague, kids book’ (specific, non?) turned this up and I immediately ordered a secondhand copy.

The story takes place in Derbyshire: a family is caught in a rainstorm and finds shelter in a barn after the eldest daughter Catherine is drawn to it. After their mother ventures out to find their father, the three children begin to play-act a game in which they are hidden in the barn during the winter of 1665, when plague is ripping through their village. But is it really a game, or is Catherine remembering something in her family’s past?

This book completely captivated me as a kid and I can see why: children alone, battling an unseen danger, a bossy older girl in charge of her younger siblings (projection, much?) I’d forgotten that it was illustrated, too. As an adult, it didn’t hold me in quite the same way, but then it wasn’t written for 34-year-old me but for nine-year-old me. It doesn’t talk down to its readers, but is pitched just right; it’s a clever novel that’ll spark ideas in the same way it did to me as a child.

It was lovely to revisit this and would be a book I’d recommend to anyone with a child who has any interest in history. I’m sure I could probably trace my love of historical fiction back to books like this.

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