Midwinter Burning

Written by Tanya Landman Tom Clohosy Cole (illus.)
Review by Rebecca Butler

Alfie Wright is a young boy in Britain in 1939. He is, unlike many children, pleased to be evacuated as the reader gets a sense that he has a negative relationship with his mother. He is evacuated to a remote farm with the immensely kind and understanding ‘Auntie Bell’ and her husband, Ted.

Alfie and Bell’s relationship is one of the most poignant in the book. From Bell, he learns how to milk a cow, and he is given more freedom than he has ever experienced before.

On one of his roams, he meets a boy called Smidge, who could be said to have a learning difficulty, and he doesn’t communicate in standard language. He and Alfie communicate mainly through gestures. Both the boys, who have never experienced strong friendship before, derive much from each other’s company. It transpires very gradually, that Smidge is a time traveller from the Stone Age. This part of the novel is not completely convincing, though is enjoyable when you realise. This does not become clear until the denouement. Alfie is the only one who suspects Smidge is different throughout the novel. This suspicion leads to Alfie worrying that he will be labelled crazy like the WW1 veteran, Mr. Moore, who Alfie lives next door to in London. Mr. Moore was ostracised by most of the community for what we now know as PTSD. Alfie does not ostracise him, and their relationship is another major strength of this book. Mental health is not often well handled. That is not the case with Landman’s novel.