by Melanie Heuiser Hill
When they were little, both of our kids had a fascination with anthropomorphic mice. One actually had a set of imaginary mice friends who preceded us into anxiety producing situations, of which there are many when you are a small child. These benevolent mice (who had names, specific jobs, and amazing vehicles of transportation) went ahead and checked out weddings, Mommy-and-Me music class, doctor’s offices, campsites, kindergarten, etc. They provided information as to what to expect and situations to watch out for. Amazingly (and fortunately), they always gave favorable courage-providing reports. They were an important part of our life for several years.
As I look back, it feels like a chicken-or-egg situation. Did the love of mice come first, or did the Brambly Hedge books spark that love?
Do you know the Brambly Hedge books? They’ve been around for quite a while. I actually found the first ones at Target, which seems all wrong as they would more rightly be found in a tiny bookshop that serves tea and is full of nooks and crannies, wildflowers and gorgeous books, somewhere in the British countryside. But I’m glad Target carried them when my kids were small — chancing upon one enlivened an otherwise uninspiring trip for diapers and toilet paper etc. We have an almost complete set of the books. (I found out about the missing ones just now when I searched on-line — that will be rectified shortly.). And I see that you can buy all the stories in one volume today. Which I might. For my (very) future grandchildren, you know.
As originally published, the books are small. They are easy to find on the bookshelf because no other books are their particular size and shape. Jill Barklem’s art is so astoundingly detailed that it would seem they could have made them oversized, but they are not. If anything, they are undersized, and that seems just right. Lends to the coziness of the books.
And these books are COZY, let me tell you. Even the names of the rodent heros and heroines therein are cozy: Mrs. Crustybread, Dusty Dogwood, Old Mrs. Eyebright, Poppy Eyebright, Basil Brightberry, Mr. and Mrs. Toadflax, Primrose Woodmouse…. They are the sweetest characters you can imagine and their adventures in Brambly Hedge are exciting (in a calm and purposeful way) as they scurry around the community through secret passageways, tunnels, and amazing rooms.
I love the quotidian details and so did the kids — the picnics packed, the surprise celebrations, the seasonal food preparations! The research Barklem did is obvious — she didn’t just dream up the flour mill that grinds the flour for the mice’s bread; the mill is a part of Britain’s agricultural history. The Brambly Hedge mice are a resourceful bunch. They use wind and waterpower, know how to “make-do” with what is available, preserve and fix things, and they celebrate the many turning points of life with delightful parties. These mice are self-sufficient, kind, and creative. Their stories are heart-warming and the details of their daily lives are interesting in ways that you don’t often find in books for small children. Throughout the stories there’s an emphasis on self-sufficiency, courage, and the tending and nurturing one’s community. These are beautiful things to put before a child, I think.
When I pulled these well-loved books off the bookshelf this morning, I lost myself in them for a bit. I then had the overwhelming urge to make a pie, tidy the garden, and sweep the porch so as to have a neighbor over for a celebration of some kind that we would just…create! Perhaps I should read a Brambly Hedge book once a day. Alas, they are undeniably better with a small person on your lap, and those are in short supply around our house these days. So I commend them to you: find a wee one, find the friends of Brambly Hedge, brew a proper cup of tea, and enjoy! You will not be disappointed.