Bestselling author, nature writer, and podcast host and creator Melissa Harrison has created an instant classic with her debut children's novel. Like all the best children's novels, it's not just for children and weaves together adventure, folklore, and a deep love of nature that is irresistible.
Melissa's Harrison's By Ash, Oak and Thorn immediately appeals to folksy, nostalgic type charm with the cover and the blurb hinting at a modern folklore tale. We follow three of the ancient Hidden Folk - guardians of nature - as they set off on a quest to solve a mystery that threatens their existence.
It's a beautiful tale of wonder that will delight readers of all ages.
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the carpet downstairs of my local library and reading stories. I don’t know if the library had someone special come in, or if it was just someone who worked there who did it but I know I was hooked on the power and magic of words.
And although I did enjoy some of the established classics, I clearly remember the affection I had for those that were set in nature; stories like The Magic Faraway Tree, and a series called Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem about a group of mice were big favourites. I particularly remember the Brambly Hedge ones that focused on each season of the year. Even now, just thinking about them gives me a cosy feeling.
If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend seeking them out.
This joy in nature writing pretty much stayed dormant until I read Clay, Melissa Harrison’s debut novel. It’s one one of those novels that seemed a little impossible - a new story that felt like it belonged in the classic section and managed to gently draw you in to the natural world and an urban drama. That same magic formula is at work deep within the roots of this, her debut children's novel.
Cumulus, Moss, and Burnett are Hidden Folk - an ancient trio of a rare race who are the guardians of nature - the Wild World. A mystery and an accident cause them to flee the ash tree they call home at the bottom of a residential garden. They say goodbye to their familiar surroundings and animal friends and set out on a perilous journey to seek out any of their kind - if they still exist. Can they find a reason (and cure) for Cumulus fading away? And can they do it whilst avoiding the dangers that Mortal kind (humans) may present?
The story is a beautiful hymn to the wonders of the natural world and connecting with the wildness around you. It is full of descriptions that conjure delight and nourishing nuggets of factual details about the lives of animals and the places they inhabit. Harrison’s writing keeps the adventure rolling along with a genuine sense of peril, whilst also pausing to enjoy the wonder of a deer’s precarious journey; the specific calls and songs of countryside birds; and not forgetting the glorious invention that one of the Hidden Folk creates with discarded human footwear…
I first started reading this to classes in Primary School and they loved it - the magical quality and folklore elements are great hooks but it was the relationships of the Hidden Folk that made the characters all the more loveable - in particular how they navigate their emotions and experiences. And who doesn’t enjoy a lesson on bravery from a pigeon?
I realised that I hadn’t taken time to sit and just read it for myself, and although it starts in spring time, I found reading it in the depths of winter a real balm for my craving of more light and it was an ideal companion with a hot chocolate (have I mentioned the popcorn flavoured Galaxy hot chocolate one? Oh MY).
There is such a deep love of the natural world in this book, and especially in highlighting little details, that you can’t help but look a little closer on your next walk…what are those footprints? Are those birds pointing? What’s that little hole in the trunk of that tree…
By Ash, Oak and Thorn is available now - as is the follow up, By Rowan and Yew. Click the link to find out more and order your copy.
Melissa Harrison: https://melissaharrison.co.uk
My biscuit rating?
Home made oatmeal and raisin cookies - Full of heart and goodness.