Children of Winter
London, Catnip, 1995, 128p
Berlie Doherty writes beautiful, family-orientated novels for young, intelligent readers. She is very knowledgeable, basing her stories in historical fact, set in the Derbyshire countryside.
Children of Winter is a novel about the impact of the plague on a family in Derbyshire, in 1665. It begins in the modern day, as a family venture across the peaks to visit their grandmother. They are halted by a storm, and the children shelter together in a barn, where imagination takes over. Catherine feels like she has been here before, so the siblings play-act as children sent away from their family to protect them from the plague.
Doherty's characters are innocent, loving children. They hark back to a more simple time, presenting an ideal image of childhood and family as friendship and communion. They do not bicker or fight, but keep strength through their unity. As such, I see these as the kind of books that family share together, reading as a group.
This idealisation of childhood is something for which Doherty may come under criticism; but I find her novels to be realistic and optimistic, offering children a reminder of the importance of family. They contain a spoonful of morality - a rare thing in a genre currently preoccupied by melodrama and fantasy.