Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

Book Review: Brambly Hedge

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 ...

Cover via Amazon

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?

8 Responses to “Book Review: Brambly Hedge”

  1. snapdragons

    I’m so glad to hear that Brambly Hedge is being re-printed! It was a nasty surprise to find that the Complete Brambly Hedge was getting so expensive. I’m also glad that someone else has enjoyed these stories and pictures!

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    • shalahowell

      It’s all your fault I discovered these books, you know. 🙂 I’m eagerly awaiting your next nostalgic children’s book post to see what else the Four-Year-Old and I should be reading.

      As for Brambly Hedge, we can only hope that even if the US release never does materialize, the fact that new editions are available in the UK might make prices a bit more reasonable on our side of the Pond. Even used copies seemed pretty pricey when I was shopping around. You know it’s bad when you seriously consider buying new from the UK and paying huge shipping costs because it would be a better deal.

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  2. Kate's Bookshelf

    I will certainly have to look for the complete collection. I happen to love little animals and the imaginative way you can make their life like humans. The pictures of this series make the books and I would recommend them to any body, but especially little girls because all little girls seem to like the ‘doll house’ look of things. So glad you found a copy for yourself. And thank you for the pingback and comments yourself.

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  3. Jeanroper

    Thank you for reviewing these wonderful books which I have read tony child and gifted many times
    I feel that every library should have a special Jill Barkley shelf
    Here are some of our other favorite amazing books
    The Wind in the Willows is a stand alone piece of great poetic writing that deserves being read at least three times aloud to your child just to have him or her savor the riches of the English language, the creation of well rounded interesting characters and of course the humor and excitement.
    Katie Morag books by Mairi Hederwick are a staple in Britain but seem sadly lacking from kids shelves in the U.S. My 4 favorites are Katie Morag and the two Grandmothers
    Katie Morage and the New Pier
    Katie Morag and the Big Boy Cousins and Katie Morag Delivers the Mail
    Next anything by E Nesbit especially her trilogies and
    Another seemingly unheard of amazing illustrator author Kathleen Hale who wrote truly unique books about Orlando the Marmalade Cat such as Orlando the Marmalade Cat Buys. A Farm

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    • Shala Howell

      Thanks for these recommendations! We have the Wind in the Willows in the queue already, along with E Nesbit. Haven’t heard of Katie Morage though. We will definitely check it out!

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