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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Brambly Hedge: Autumn Story

Author and Illustrator: Jill Barklem
Publisher: HarperCollins 1980
Acquired: School Fayre

My daughter, Edie, (approaching 4 years of age) plonked Autumn Story on my lap today and said, 'I know it's long, but we've got all day'. Well what can you say to that?!

The book isn't 'long' per say, just quite wordy and descriptive, but that's part of the charm. The Brambly Hedge books are, to me, a hybrid between The Beatrix Potter Collection and The Thomas the Tank Engine series. They capture the essence of the British countryside in incredibly intricate illustrations like Potter, in attention to rural traditions, native animals, birdlife, insect life, flora and fauna just like Potter, and they're written in this slightly stiff, posh voice which hoots of Received Pronunciation. Characters are introduced by their titles, Mr Apple, Lady Woodmouse, Wilfred, and this espouses a sense of position and place in the social class hierarchy. Potter was slightly less oblique in doing this I'd say, some of her characters have more of an accent (Jemima Puddleduck) or aspire to great things (Mrs Tabitha Twitchit). And the similarity to The Rev W Awdry's Thomas the Tank Engine Series? In a similar vein to Brambly Hedge, I can read these books aloud and completely switch off to the story, sleep talk them almost. It's possible to read both series of these books so mechanically and yet still my children seem to enjoy them and beg for more! I have long thought that reading Thomas the Tank Engine at any time of the night or day would cure even a hardened insomniac.     

I will be lynched for gender specification here, but Brambly Hedge are really Thomas the Tank Engine for girls. Not to say that only boys like Thomas, and only girls like Brambly Hedge, not at all true, Bert (5) really likes a later book in the Brambly series called The High Hills (1986), but in general, I find the aesthetics and themes of Brambly Hedge really appeal to my daughter, while the aesthetic and narratives of Thomas continue to enthral my son. Again, the two series have much in common: both are about old alliances, community, teamwork, togetherness, friendship and work; both have exciting adventure elements, generally where something goes wrong and needs fixing, or someone gets lost of left behind and needs finding, or an item needs retrieving (against the clock). In Brambly Hedge: Autumn Story for example, field-mouse Primose accidentally strays too far; search parties are sent for her, but she remains resourceful and fortunate, and stumbles on other helpful mouse communities and is eventually reunited with her family.   

What I really like about these books, as does Edie who sat telling me all about this today, is the attention to food, clothes (the materials used), the weather, the smells. The books have quite a sensory appeal, being description rich, vocabulary rich. I also like that they appeal to girls (at least mine!) and have a strong adventure theme, and positive representations of female characters surviving on their own, being skilled and knowledgeable. The tone of the books are a little dated,  particularly in terms of dialogue whereby the characters address each other by name a lot and helpfully talk to themselves allowing the plot to develop. 

All in all, a good quaint 'summer's day in the garden' kind of read. 

If you like this book you might also like:  The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies by Beatrix Potter

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