Hag Storm by Victoria Williamson

Published by Cranachan

FROM this reliable publisher comes yet another instant children’s classic with Scotland at its heart. Cranachan can be recognised for their Scottish books – ranging from picture books for those from as young as three all the way to relatable teenage characters in YA who leave an impression.

What remains the same is there is always a clear and genuine effort to centre Scottish culture and this exciting Hallowe’en read perfect for eight-12 year olds is no different.

Hag Storm, despite its modern language, has one foot firmly in the past, with the whole story operating as a homage to Rabbie Burns’s life and poetry.

This retelling of Tam O’ Shanter is the first I’ve seen that paints its main character as a young boy, a decision that allows readers around his age to better connect with the tale. The appropriately more simplistic writing and light sense of humour used throughout has a grounding effect on a story that due to its age, may now seem dated and difficult.

Twelve-year-old Rab wishes he could be at school more. Unfortunately it seems that is not on the cards as his parents have moved to a farm, and with money tight, he must help out. With the often intense physical labour that needs to be done to keep them afloat there is no time for him to be at school. He knows this, and that he is needed on the farm but nonetheless has a deep love for and fascination with books, one that must fade every day further into the background to make room for his work. It is on a day where his chances of balancing learning with helping his family seem to be slipping more than ever, that the strangest thing happens, a discovery that will change things forever.

As he’s finishing up a day’s work and just about to go inside for dinner Rab finds a strange stone with a hole, through which he sees a figure. He consoles himself with words of logic, that the old woman in black he sees cannot be a witch as he believes. Such a notion makes no sense, it is the stuff of fairy tales told by his old aunt Betty – to be indulged briefly for fun and promptly dismissed to pay attention to more serious things.

Unfortunately for Rab, it seems that this time fairytales can’t be ignored. The more he learns about witches the greater the threat they pose seems to be. Rab finds himself on a countdown to Hallowe’en night, and with it the meeting of the witches that the stone on their farm foretold him of. His parents and younger siblings are all at risk and so he must learn to be ready for the coming storm.

Full of intrigue and just the right amount of danger for its age group, this book is one that makes a perfect combination of an overall nod to the life of Rabbie Burns and a new take on perhaps his most well-known piece of poetry.

Rab is one of those young heroes of books who possesses more than just the courage of a classic protagonist, but the type of kindness, consideration and love for literature that one could only hope to instil in their own children.