By Author / Illustrator
Walker Books Ltd
Paperback / softback
A historical time-slip adventure for middle grade readers, from the Carnegie Medal-winning author of Apache and Buffalo Soldier.
Alfie Wright? Alfie Wrong, more like. Alfie has never really fitted in anywhere - he doesn't have any friends, and even his mum seems embarrassed of him. So when he's evacuated to a farm in rural Devon run by kind old Aunt Bell and her gentle giant of a son, Alfie can't believe his luck. The War seems a long way off, and among the cows and pigs and geese Alfie's happier than he's ever been - especially when he makes friends with one of the local boys, Snidge. But Snidge, for all his friendliness, is not all he appears. And the mystery that surrounds him seems to be connected to the Midwinter Burning, an annual ritual held at the Standing Stones, high up on the cliffs. Aunt Bell says it's all just a bit of harmless superstition, but when Snidge goes missing, Alfie finally discovers who his friend really is - and relives the true horror of the legend...
Evacuated away from London and his indifferent mother, Alfie Wright thrives in his new life with 'Auntie' Bell and her son, Ted, at Coombe Farm in Devon. A sensitive, different boy, he is no longer 'Alfie Wrong', but is cared for, managing to make friends with Smidge, a mysterious lad Alfie meets when exploring his new surroundings. However, as war is declared, talk in the village turns to the need for the village tradition of the Midwinter Burning at the ancient clifftop stones to continue to prevent the Darkness from returning. Eyes once again turn to Alfie, the outsider, and then Smidge goes missing. Can Alfie find the truth behind village legend and help his new friend before it is too late?
Tanya Landman is the author of some utterly compelling and engrossing stories and Midwinter Burning is no exception. The story weaves between the outbreak of World War II and ancient times, mingling the lives of two 'lonely little lads', whose friendship brings courage and comfort. As an adult, it is hard to read the cold indifference of Alfie's mother to her 'little accident' and this stands in stark contrast to the warmth and affection he receives at Coombe Farm as he becomes 'my birdie' to Auntie Bell, praised and encouraged as he helps out, flourishing under the positive attention.
The negative legacy of the First World War is also skilfully brought into the story as a veteran of that conflict, Mr Moore, was damaged both physically and mentally by his experiences. Cruelly treated and shunned by both adults and children living near Alfie in London, Mr Moore is a living reminder of a time most want to forget. Alfie alone treats him with kindness and as he sits with him, the reader can see that Alfie is sensitive to the 'indistinct, insubstantial shadows' Mr Moore talks to, paving the way for his later experiences with Smidge.
Midwinter Burning is rich in historical detail and vividly captures landscapes and characters. As it builds to its tense and exciting climax, the reader is left with the glow of hope that both Alfie and Smidge are set for a better future than the one they might have had, saved by their friendship across time. A brilliant read!
255 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 11+