The Way Past Winter

Authored by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Published by Chicken House

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Two quotes immediately sprang to mind as I read the incredible work that is The Way Past Winter. The first was this from C.S. Lewis: “A children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story” and: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales” (Albert Einstein) was the second.

Let me explain: this story is something exceptional. It is, in essence, a coming of age adventure story firmly rooted in fairy tale and folklore. Intelligently written, Hargraves does not shy away from a challenging narrative. She treats her readers with respect and has created a world full of rich imagery with vivid, almost poetic description.

Hargrave’s depiction of a family whose struggles and frustrations bound tightly with the love and protection with which they provide each other will resonate with readers who themselves struggle to live peacefully with their siblings. The sisters are Mila, Pipa and Sanna. They live with their older brother Oskar in a remote house in the Eldbjorn Forest. As we meet them, they are battling to survive alone (their Mother died in childbirth, and their father vanished a short time later) in a “winter that came, and never left”. One night, a group of strangers arrive, and later Oskar disappears too. The story which follows is driven by the courageous determination of Mila to find her lost brother and reunite their family.

I have read reviews and heard comments celebrating Hargrave for her strong female characters who at first glance, appear to lead us through the story. However, we also meet Rune, a mage of indeterminate age who the sisters could not have survived without. Certainly, a book suited best to high attaining readers age 9+; I imagine there could be some fascinating discussion around gender, family and what drives human beings when they are at their most desperate or vulnerable.

Hargrave delivers a message to children to be brave, to make bold choices in their own lives and to follow their heart through enveloping them in her magical and immersive world. An ethereal, refined piece of storytelling.

This title previously featured in our Year 4 Reading Gladiators collection.