The Brambly Hedge Complete Collection by Jill Barklem, 248 pp, RL 4
The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem
Review Copy from HarperCollins
This slipcased collection puts all eight Brambly Hedge books, the first four of which were published in 1980, into one beautiful book for the first time. Originally published in a charmingly small (6 inch x 7 inch) trim size, this larger format serves Barklem's intensely detailed illustrations even better. While the works of naturalist Beatrix Potter will come to mind when you first glimpse Barklem's work, or maybe Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, the world Barklem created is truly her own. In the introduction, Barklem, who passed away in 2017, writes, "Brambly Hedge is my ideal world. The way the mice live is completely natural, which is how I think life ought to be. They appreciate and use everything that grows around them. Theirs is a loving and caring society, but the mice are not just serious and worthy. They have FUN! Life is a series of picnics and gatherings, parties and outings." Barklem conceived of the gentle world of Brambly Hedge while traveling from Epping to art school by way of the London Underground, which she described as a "glimpse of hell." She also carried out intensive research before bringing this world to life. Her mice weave their own clothes and run a water mill where they ground their flour, among other things. Barklem, in an effort to eliminate human concepts from the world of Brambly Hedge, created a system of measurement using mouse tails and paws and a system of weights based on acorns and grains of wheat. Besides using the trees in Epping Forest as direct inspiration for those of Brambly Hedge, Barklem even cooked EVERY single dish seen the mice make to make sure that the ingredients were accurate.
Over the course of eight books, the mice of Brambly Hedge work and play, celebrating birthdays, weddings and even a massive snow. As you might expect, class is part of the story, with Lord and Lady Woodmouse, inhabitants of the Old Oak Palace where their Palace cook, Mrs. Crustybread, runs the kitchen. Yet, all the mice join together to celebrate little Wilfred Toadflax's birthday with a surprise picnic. In the summer, Poppy and Dusty, the miller, strike up a romance and plan to marry on Midsummer's Day on a special raft made just for the occasion. Despite the heat, the community comes together and a feast of "cold watercress soup, fresh dandelion salad, honey creams, syllabubs and meringues" are prepared along with some, "white wines, primrose, meadowsweet and elderflower," which are hung to cool in the rushes.
In the non-seasonal books, Primrose and Wilfred are distracted from practicing for the grand winter entertainment when they discover a hidden play room in the Old Oak Palace. In the autumn, Mr. Apple and Wilfred head out to deliver blankets to the voles before the cold sets in. In summer, four friends set sail on the Periwinkle hoping to reach the sea and bring back barrels of salt to restock the shelves of the Store Stump. And, in Poppy's Babies, the mice of Brambly Hedge come together to find a home more suitable than the cramped, dusty mill for for Poppy and Dusty Dogwood, new parents to three babies.
With stories and illustrations, Barklem created a complete world that will surely live on the way the world of Beatrix Potter has. Kindness, community and creativity are the strong foundation that this world is built on, wrapped in cozy, charming, delicious layers. I have included several illustrations from the world of Brambly Hedge because I just can't get enough of them. I hope you love them as much as I do! Scroll down for a clip from the Brambly Hedge animated show and images of the Brambly Hedge Royal Doulton china and figurines.