Review - By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison
One by one, on a bright, early spring morning, three little people no bigger than your hand emerge from their home in the hollow trunk of an old ash tree. Living in the garden at 52 Ash Row, unnoticed by the human residents of the house, they have been there for over 200 cuckoo summers. Moss, Burnet and Cumulus, the Hidden Folk guardians of their patch of natural world usually love spring. But their joy is abruptly shortened when they make an upsetting discovery. The oldest, Cumulus is beginning to fade away.
Then, a torrential thunderstorm strikes and their beloved old ash tree home splits in two right to the ground, pushing the three on a journey to find answers. Why is this fading happening and will it happen to them all? Where have the rest of the Hidden Folk gone? And what do all the changes in the natural world mean? Guided by the birds, wild animals and stars, Moss, Burnet and Cumulus set out in search for more of their kind, finding another, Sorrel along the way. But their travels will take them much farther; to the busy, noisy and dangerous Human Hive. There, they uncover more mysteries and learn a surprising history of their own kind….
In a book that nods to classic childrens fare, such as The Little Grey Men by “B.B.” and The Borrowers by Mary Norton, this is a story filled with natural history and wonder. Lovingly painted characters and landscapes expose a world of tiny beings and the overlooked environment. The incredible travels undertaken by the Hidden Folk is a quest for knowledge, as well as for kinship and comfort. They inspire us to be quizzical, considerate and bold. The Hidden Folk are resourceful, and while working together, their individual gifts and quirks shine through.
As the Hidden Folk consider their own continued existence in the world, they ponder the behaviour of humans; why we do the things we do; what is important and why do we miss or ignore in the world? Why is it some humans (most usually children) can see and speak to them and others seem to forget. Their care and concern for each other, particularly the slowly fading Cumulus is genuinely moving, inspiring their journey in the first place. This considerate side of their nature extends to everyone and everything they meet on their journey, emphasizing a sense of camaraderie and consideration.
The story of a disappearing world; By Ash, Oak and Thorn gives a vanishing way of life that echoes the impact of environmental change and a climate in crisis that rings true today. Exquisite writing and poignant understanding of these fascinating, funny, tiny heroes bring to life a gentle, yet action-packed adventure that is tailor-made to fire imagination and curiosity. Inspiring us to walk lightly in the world, asking us to look closer, making us laugh and cry; it is truly extraordinary. Magical and enthralling; rich in beauty and wildness, a perfect childrens summer read.