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Emma in Winter
Emma in Winter first edition (UK) cover, illustrated by Laszlo Acs
Author Penelope Farmer
Illustrator Laszlo Acs (Chatto & Windus edition); James J. Spanfeller (Harcourt edition)
Cover artist Laszlo Acs (Chatto & Windus edition); James J. Spanfeller (Harcourt edition)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Chatto & Windus (UK); Harcourt (USA)
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 160 pp (Chatto & Windus first edition, hardback)
ISBN 0-7011-0105-9 (Chatto & Windus first edition, hardback)
Preceded by The Summer Birds 
Followed by Charlotte Sometimes 

Emma in Winter is a children's novel by British writer Penelope Farmer, published in 1966 by Chatto & Windus in the UK, and by Harcourt in the USA. It is the second of three books featuring the Makepeace sisters, Charlotte and Emma, These three books are sometimes known as the Aviary Hall books.[1]


At the age of twenty-one, Penelope Farmer was contracted for her first collection of short stories, The China People. One story originally intended for this collection proved too long to include. This was rewritten as the first chapter of The Summer Birds (1962), her first book featuring Charlotte and Emma Makepeace. The Summer Birds received a Carnegie Medal commendation in 1963. A second book, Emma in Winter, set roughly two years later, with Emma as the main character followed in 1966. The main settings of both these books are a small village school in the South Downs in southern England, and Aviary Hall, the girls' home. Charlotte Sometimes followed in 1969, set slightly before the events of Emma in Winter, which follows Charlotte's first term in a London boarding school.

According to Farmer, Charlotte and Emma, who grow up in their Grandfather Elijah's house, were originally based on her mother and her mother's sister as children, having no parents and "…having to be everything to each other," one being the responsible one, the other being rather difficult.

Penelope Farmer stated that while writing Emma in Winter, she did not realise that identity was such a predominant theme in the novel until she encountered Margery Fisher's comments in on the book in Growing Point. She had a similar realisation, this time on her own, while writing Charlotte Sometimes.

Emma in Winter is dedicated to Judy (1939‒1991), Penelope Farmer's older twin sister.

Plot summary

It is wintertime. Emma's older sister Charlotte leaves Aviary Hall to stay with a schoolfriend, and then to return to her second term at her London boarding school. Emma, along with her classmate Bobby Fumpkins, simultaneously begin a series of dreams of being able to fly again, as they were able to do in The Summer Birds. Bobby, being fat, is consistently teased by his classmates. Emma is also initial hostile towards Bobby, but realises that not only does Bobby appear in these dreams, but he is also having the same dreams. As the two oldest children in the school, Bobby and Emma are appointed head boy and head girl.

In the dreams, they fly over their village and the South Downs, with the North Downs and the sea visible in the distance. They are observed and shadowed by an evil presence, initially appearing as a pair of eyes watching them. Strangely, the trees in their dreams consistently shrink downwards into the ground. Bobby realises that in their dreams, they are being dragged backwards in time. In successive dreams, they travel farther and farther back in time, visiting the Ice Age and seeing a mammoth, and a distant prehistoric time where they see a monstrous dinosaur. They speculate if they will eventually arrive at the beginning of the world, and if they will see the Garden of Eden.

Eventually, in their final dream, Emma and Bobby are dragged back to the beginning of the world. They stand on a rocky shore facing the sea, and are confronted by the evil being, revealed as a grotesque, distorted form of their teacher, Miss Hallibutt. The being threatens to consume them by taking away their thoughts of reality. After transforming itself into replicas of Emma and Bobby themselves, its attempts are defeated by the two children being able to concentrate on reality and of their home and their school. The children are jerked out of the dream world and return to reality.

As term draws to a close, the thaw comes, and the children at school react with great joy, with Emma realising that Charlotte will soon be return home after her second term at the boarding school. Bobby and Emma walk home, with the children knowing they will not return to the dream world. As Bobby runs up the laneway to his home, Emma calls out to him, "Pleasant dreams, Bob, pleasant dreams!"


Emma in Winter features the same village school setting as The Summer Birds. It is set around a year and a half after the events of The Summer Birds, and follows soon after the events of Charlotte Sometimes. Charlotte has left their small village school, and is now in her second term at boarding school. While in the absence of the mysterious bird-boy, the children are not able to fly, in Emma and Bobby's dreams, they retain this ability.

Emma in Winter gives some explanation for the time travel phenomenon seen in both this book and in "Charlotte Sometimes". Emma and Bobby sneak into Grandfather Elijah's study, and read an article where time is described as being like a coiled spring, which can be pushed together, so that some moments in time can be very near a moment in another time.


1st edition (UK), 160pp, illustrated by Laszlo Acs. London: Chatto & Windus, 1966, second impression 1974. ISBN: 0-7011-0105-9

1st edition (USA), 160pp, illustrated by James J. Spanfeller. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966. OCLC Number: 301330

Reprint. New York: Dell Yearling, 1987.

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