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The Complete Brambly Hedge (Brambly Hedge) Hardcover – March 3, 2015
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“…the most researched-crammed fantasy ever set before small children…” Sunday Times Magazine
About the Author
Jill Barklem was born in Epping and led a quiet childhood enjoying being close to nature. On leaving school, she studied illustration at St Martin’s in London. The inspiration for Brambly Hedge appeared during Jill’s daily train journey between Epping and London: shutting herself off from the outside world, she became obsessed with the way of life of a band of hedgerow mice, later to be developed as the world of Brambly Hedge.
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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.)
(Review originally published on my blog, Caterpickles.com.)
Our days are chaotic but these bring back a calm peacefulness - almost like a meditation. Each night I snuggle with her in bed, we read a chapter - after I read a page, we point out different things we see in the pictures. If I were to give any book as a gift to a new mother or to a 2/3/4 year old - this would be it.
There's a special magic...hard to explain. The pictures are exquisite, the narrative isn't one you'd want to rush through, but to savor and enjoy.
There's an innocence that will greatly appeal to a 2-4 year old and I have to admit, I've enjoyed Wilfred's birthday and Poppy's wedding as much as my daughter. She would point to the words, trying to read on the *first* page, but by the third page, she just settled back to enjoy the story and the pictures. I think that says a lot, where my daughter rests against my shoulder to listen to the story rather than trying to read - it's that sense of peacefulness that is priceless.
Yes, the book is a bit pricey - but, you can find new compilations of several stories for less than $25. We're keeping ours on the nightstand as part of the evening ritual. I was able to buy the whole series in a single book for about $20 or so. I'm glad I bought the series in a single book as the pictures are also larger.
Look forward to reading other reviews.