Book Review: Brambly Hedge

Review cross-posted on our sister site: Caterpickles.

The Complete Brambly Hedge
By Jill Barklem
Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2009
Age Range: Ages 4 and up

I learned about these books through Snapdragons, a blog about the domestic adventures of a new mom. The author of the blog had grown up reading these stories and was very excited about the prospect of sharing them with her own child. I’d never heard of them, but as I’m always on the look out for new books to read with The Four-Year-Old, I spent a week or two hunting them down.

Cover of "Wilfred to the Rescue (Stories ...Sadly, the books appear to be a UK phenomenon, which means it’s hard to find copies of them in the U.S. When I consulted my librarian, she found a spin-off by Alan MacDonald called Wilfred to the Rescue. While the story was cute and the illustrations engaging, it was hard to see from this book exactly why Snapdragons would write about the Brambly Hedge mice with such passionate devotion. (I should probably mention here that The Four-Year-Old adored Wilfred to the Rescue. I liked it myself. I just didn’t find it exceptional.)

I finally found a reasonably priced used copy of the Complete Brambly Hedge through Amazon. The collection contains all eight original Brambly Hedge stories, including Spring Story, Summer Story, Autumn Story, Winter Story, Poppy’s Babies, Sea Story, The High Hills, and my daughter’s favorite, The Secret Staircase.

Once I opened an original, I understood Snapdragons’ devotion in about two seconds. For the stories themselves, think Beatrix Potter‘s Peter Rabbit stories with mice and without the sometimes surprising lapses into violence that forcibly remind you that Potter wrote in a different cultural context. In Potter’s world, Mr. MacGregor has a distressing habit of stalking through the pages taking potshots at the cast with his shotgun. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in the Brambly Hedge.

The stories are charming, but it’s the illustrations with their incredibly rich detail that won my heart. Small wonder each drawing took Jill Barklem three months to complete. (Each book in the series is the product of two years’ effort.)

My favorites are the ones that dissect the trees where the mice make their homes. I could spend hours staring at all the little rooms the mice have carved out of the tree, complete with tiny furnishings, winding staircases, and halls. The Four-Year-Old, on the other hand, would prefer to spend those hours staring at the illustration of the room at the top of the Secret Staircase, with its spider webs, columns, detailed tapestries, mice statues, and especially the little suit of mouse armor standing guard on the side.

Although the gallery of illustrations from the Brambly Hedge site does not include a dissected tree or the secret room, they do provide a fairly good idea of the quality of the illustrations in this book.

The Brambly Hedge books are in the process of being re-released in the UK.  The Complete Brambly Hedge collection was released just this past October, and according to the Brambly Hedge Facebook page, the individual hardcover books will soon follow. (Unfortunately, although Brambly Hedge assures me they do plan to release the books in the United States, they haven’t set a date for it yet.)

And now it’s your turn. What are you reading this week?

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book, Did Dinosaurs Have Belly Buttons?, is currently planned for release in 2018. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Ten-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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