Hannah's Winter

Book review by
Kristen Breck, Common Sense Media
Hannah's Winter Book Poster Image
Moody, complex Japanese fantasy blends reality and mystery.

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The characters go between living their daily lives in modern Japan and uncovering riddles and meeting people from old Japan. The reader learns much about Japanese climate, traditions, history, and lore.  Furthermore, there's an afterword in which the author provides more detail about many features presented in the story, including places, historical figures, paper art, festivals, and language.

Positive Messages

Hannah is courageous when she accompanies her mother to Japan despite not wanting to go. Once there, she readily makes a friend in Miki, and is respectful of the family and culture.  Throughout the story, Hannah, Miki, and Hiro work together to solve riddles and use teamwork to overcome mysteries and dangers. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hannah, Miki, and Hiro are all positive role models.  They care about each other, they work together to solve dilemmas and uncover mysteries, they respect their families, and they are engaged in intriguing pursuits.  The adult characters are all supportive of the kids; they offer wisdom and companionship, and while Hanna's parents are not involved in the story much, Miki's parents, grandmother, and aunt are all likable and important in the story.


There's no real violence in this story, but old stories are told in which a girl child was kept as a prisoner and an ancient female nanny kept a boy child for herself. Ghosts are mentioned.


There's no crass or bad language in this story. There are many Japanese words and terms used throughout the story.


Brad Pitt and 7-11 are mentioned once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a gentle fantasy with no edgy influences. There's a lot of descriptive language and Japanese history embedded in the story, which may be new for many readers. The riddle and clues are not easily discernable, and at times readers may have to flip pages back and forth to make sure they understand the plot.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 4, 4, 5, and 7-year-old Written byJulie loves to read December 29, 2009
Adult Written byphilmelachelle October 6, 2009
This book was a great read because the characters were fleshed out, the story was unique, and there were a lot of details that made Japanese history and social... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old October 17, 2009

What lies ahead for Hannah THIS winter?

I LOVED THIS STORY!!! I really enjoyed reading this as it is a cross between two of my favorite genres: fantasy and mystery. I believe this is good for kids a... Continue reading

What's the story?

12 year-old Hannah gets dragged to Japan by her boisterous mom, who is studying Japanese gardens. While her mother travels the country, Hannah stays with Japanese friends, the Maekawa family and their daughter, Miki. Hannah and Miki become best friends, and one day, while opening an old box of papers, they find a riddle that appears to be an appeal for help from the "Ocean Boy." Is this "Ocean Boy" the spirit that has been throwing donuts at Hannah and writing with sunscreen on her mirror? The girls and their friend Hiro set out to solve the riddle, traveling to markets, temples, shrines, ancient castles, and meeting people from the present and past. Can the three kids follow the ancient clues to help the Ocean Boy find his peace?

Is it any good?

This story is steeped in Japanese history, culture, climate, people, and language, and the author has a clear appreciation for the quiet beauty of that country. The story is a gentle fantasy that has its main characters going between their real lives in modern Japan to a mystical realm in which they try to help a ghost boy reunite with his family. The combination of fact and fantasy will work for some readers, yet others may find it too grounded to allow real imagination to pervade. The mood is quiet like snow and sweet as innocent friendship, yet the plot is also slightly confusing. The clues are cryptic and often uncovered by luck rather than skill. The drama of talking dragons, scary ghosts, and missing parents is somehow lost, and the emotional impact of the adventures is rather matter-of-fact. Readers with an interest in Japan and a taste for intricately woven tales will enjoy this story, but readers requiring more action and emotional involvement may want to look elsewhere.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about living in another country. What country would you want to live in and why? How might it be different than your own country?  How might it be similar?  Did this story inspire you to learn more about Japan?

  • Talk about the mystery. Were you able to understand the clues? Could you predict how some of the action would resolve? Did it end in a satisfying way for you?

  • Discuss the role of Hannah's mother. What did you think of her? Was she funny, irritating, adventuresome? What did you think when she arrived in town with someone special to Hiro? Was it believable? 

Book details

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