Hannah finds herself not beginning the school year with her friends in Australia as expected but in Japan staying with her mother’s friends while her mother researches her next book. Hannah’s mother is a larger than life agriculturist with purple hair who talks in ALL CAPS when emphasizing a point. She refuses to leave Hannah at home with her father and brother, assuring Hannah that she is much better off experiencing Japan and learning at least 1,000 kanji. Hannah is skeptical but it turns out Japan does have an adventure in store for Hannah. The day she arrives, a package is delivered to the shop owned by the family with whom she’s staying. Inside the box is an interesting prophecy written in ancient Japanese. This is what is says:
If you, finder, choose to help ocean boy,
Wait for the first snowfall.
The flute player at the temple of secrets
has the fox light.
At the hour of the bull take the light to the shrine
Where women go to poison the hearts of their rivals.
After the bean throwing
Take the talisman you receive
To the place where the old mountain god
waits in the forest.
With the gift and your winter words
from the house of cards
Go at sunrise to wake the dragon that
sleeps in the lord’s garden.
But beware the one
Who does not want the boy to go.
And remember always:
Blue for safety, yellow is warning, red means danger.
At first, nobody knows what the message means, but then strange things begin to happen, parts of the prophecy begin to come true, and it becomes apparent that the ghost of a mischievous boy is haunting Hannah. Hannah and her new friends Miki and Hiro realize that they need to set the ghost free and in order to do so they must decipher and follow the clues left for them in the prophecy.
Reaction: Hannah’s Winter was a cute read. I probably wouldn’t have picked it up if I wasn’t doing another round of booktalks — this time on the Vietnam War and Asian Countries — but I’m glad I did. While it is technically fantasy with ghosts and such, there is a lot of factual historical information used to back up the fantastical parts and a lot of information on current customs. Definitely a good book for younger fantasy readers who won’t mind the history or the unfamiliar setting. I’m thinking manga readers might be interested if they’ve also developed an interest in Japan and Japanese customs.