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Book Review: 'By Ash, Oak and Thorn' by Melissa Harrison


'A breathtaking tale of the rich, wild world and all its wonder from acclaimed nature writer and Costa Award-shortlisted novelist, Melissa Harrison - the perfect read for children for spring and summer!

Three tiny, ancient beings - Moss, Burnet and Cumulus, once revered as Guardians of the Wild World - wake from winter hibernation in their beloved ash tree home. When it is destroyed, they set off on an adventure to find more of their kind, a journey which takes them first into the deep countryside and then the heart of a city. Helped along the way by birds and animals, the trio search for a way to survive and thrive in a precious yet disappearing world ...'


This story is a lovely, magical but slightly harrowing tale about saving the environment, written from the perspective of the Hidden Folk. The imagery used transforms a garden into a wonderland that will have any child excited to explore, as well as creating a calming atmosphere that will send them to sleep dreaming of sprites and talking birds. The book is similar Honey I Shrunk the Kids and the Tinkerbell movie in that it derives magic and mystery from nature. With lockdown still present in our lives children are still having to spend a lot of time inside, so 'By Ash, Oak and Thorn' is a great read to keep your children inspired - it is particularly enjoyable to read on the lawn, preferably with juice and sandwiches.

The characters themselves, Moss, Burnet and Cumulus, are part of a race called the Hidden Folk who have lived in the ash tree of a family's garden for two hundred years. They wear clothes and create tools from leaves, fruits, vegetables and man-made objects like string and Stanley knives, and talk to the animals of the garden as equals. Not only is this magical and heartwarming, but it inadvertently teaches children to be resourceful, to care about the environment and be for animal rights. Right at the beginning of the story we meet Bob the blackbird (goes by Mr B) and Spangle the starling, who are written to be just as intelligent and three dimensional as the Hidden Folk.

This story is not without adventure - the trio has their tree cut down as it succumbs to disease, and Cumulus is found to be gradually disappearing. With no home and their friend fading from existence, the three must journey to find more of their kind and hopefully find a cure. Along their travels, we learn how the Hidden Folk have been protecting the Earth since the beginning, and how humanity (or Mortals as they call us) took their purpose away via deforestation. At the core of this story lies a very bittersweet message for the next generation, to respect the Earth and all that inhabits it, and hopefully reverse the damage caused before it is too late.

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