Opening Pages: Truly Horrible Things by Gemma Hargreaves

Penny Bloom was small. She was smaller than everyone in her class, and almost twenty inches behind on the chart they pulled out whenever she visited the school nurse. She was tiny enough to be stuffed into a desk, and too little to climb onto the bus without a jump.

Where Penny lived, she was the source of much curiosity.

And so, when the winter holidays finally began, Penny’s plum sized heart was glad. It meant no one would gawp or point or ask why she simply would not grow, a question Penny did not have an answer for. She would be normal for just a little while, and today of all days, she wanted to be normal.

Penny climbed on the step ladder to hang one final set of Christmas lights above the window, her fingers sparkling from the festive storage boxes. Her bedroom was tucked at the very top of her tall house and it was the warmest room in the building. If it wasn’t for the ice on the window, she wouldn’t have known just how cold it was outside.

Winter had arrived, along with her birthday, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that; she loved snow and Christmas and sitting by the fire with Camper the cat and Buckets the dog, but she’d miss the sunny days.

Beyond the window, the back garden glittered beneath the winter sunshine. Every colour that had been there before bedtime was now decorated with silver: the brown of the bare trees and the green of the grass, even the deep maroon of the shed that sat next to Mr Norbury’s side of the fence. Everything sparkled and all was still, as if winter had arrived in a gentle sweep, leaving its coldness on all that it touched.

Penny clambered down and leaned on the windowsill, peering out at the newly wintry world. With a yank of the handle and a nudge of the sticky frame, Penny pushed the window open and let winter in.

It smelled just as she’d imagined.

It smelled like early mornings and very late nights. It smelled like the freezer door had been left open. It smelled of icicles and snowflakes and Christmas Eve, which it was, and her twelfth birthday, though you wouldn’t have known it by the lack of balloons and gifts.