Little mice cuddled close in cozy and cluttered room, having yummy picnics out in the fields, being jovial and wearing the cutest little clothes…
That is the world of Brambly Hedge written by Jill Barklem.
My life reading Brambly Hedge
I remember these mice so clearly because they were my favorite escape. I grew up as an only child, raised mainly by my grandma and great-grandma, and my world was that of books.
The little note in the front of my book says it was given to me on 10/25/90, so I had this book well before I could read. (And yes, it’s signed “Mommy” and that is 100% my grandma’s handwriting, so this was a gift from my grandma, not my absent mother.)
ANYWAY, I cherished this book. Clearly since I have held on to it. I didn’t hold on to much from my life before I was an adult, but this book has managed to stay with me. It survived the many moves we made when I was a kid, and I’m often in awe it’s in such good shape.
For me, an only child that did have a very lonely childhood, I found comfort in the illustrations here, the mice becoming adorable little friends who made yummy confections and wore the cutest clothes. I loved the hats and the aprons, the random patchwork of decorations and the incredible visuals that showed mazes of mouse homes.
Who was Jill Barklem?
When I started this little project I noticed that there wasn’t much on Jill Barklem. I’ve pieced together what I can from my copy of The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge and the Brambly Hedge website, which is maintained by her family.
Jill’s Essex upbringing which was filled with nature would play a major part in her life. At thirteen she suffered a detached retina and that would lead to her spending a lot of time in the library and art room. (The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge 1990, p. 5) When she would travel via the London Underground to classes at St. Martin’s School of Art, she would escape to a safe space in her head, one filled with “a hedge bank of mice” according to the family site. “These moments of escapism from the subterranean bustle gradually became what we now know as Brambly Hedge.” (Our Story)
In her own words, she says she actually didn’t come across Winnie the Pooh or Beatrix Potter until she was in art school. She saId she was most influenced by Arthur Rackham and Leonardo da Vinci. (The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge 1990 p. 8)
If you’ve looked at the Brambly Hedge books, you know that there are some illustrations that look very much like a technical drawing, or something akin to da Vinci’s notebooks. Jill researched and planned everything in the Brambley Hedge world.
“The clothes the mice wear are spun by paw driven looms, the flour for bread is created using a fully functional water mill. Many of the details of Brambly Hedge can be traced back to British agricultural processes of the past. The harnessing of wind and waterpower, the imaginative use of ingredients, the preserving of fruits in the autumn for winter use, the ceremonies and celebrations that mark the turning points of the year.” – Our Story, Bramblyhedge.com
The four seasonal-themed books got acquired by Harper Collins and were published in 1980, a decade before my book would be gifted to me. Besides the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter stories, which make up the Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge, she also wrote and illustrated The Secret Staircase, published in 1983, The High Hills in published 1986, Sea Story published in 1990 and Poppy’s Babies published in 1994.
Due to health issues she had during Poppy’s Babies, she stepped back from working on the Brambly Hedge world. Her world had become successful during all this time, with merch, Royal Doulton items, a tv series, and so much more.
Jill died on November 15, 2017 at 66. Her family now manages everything related to her work and legacy.
The Brambly Hedge stories have been translated into 13 languages, and they just celebrated 40 years of being loved by readers.
The themes of Brambly Hedge
I didn’t think too hard about how this book impacted my life (beside the clothes and food and affinity for fluffy rodents), but when I really thought about the themes of Brambly Hedge, I realized they had deeply impacted me my whole life.
- Nature and sustainability (https://bramblyhedge.com/the-wildlife-trusts/) are two aspects that the books clearly center around and the family has made clear is a part of their practices through a partnership with the wildlife trusts. In the books, we see the mice save everything from the harvest and carefully use the materials around them. And I think it’s clear from these loving illustrations that the creator also felt this was close to her heart.
“Socially, the mice life in harmony with their environment and with each other. There is a philosophy of loving kindness and mutual responsibility.” – Jill Barklem (The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge 1990 p 13)
- Food burst from cabinets and picnic baskets in Brambly Hedge, overloading tables and enticing curious paws. I learned that all the yummy sounding food in the book is real. Jill apparently made all the foods she mentioned to make sure they would work in real life, and you can get some amazing recipes that are very Brambly Hedge inspired from the website. They’re sorted by season and a delight to look through.
- Cozy comfort: The other theme in these books is comfort. Being cozy at home when it’s cold and snowy out, or having a delightful picnic with friends. The mice of Brambly Hedge want nothing more than an excuse to celebrate and love each other.
Spending a year with Brambly Hedge
I think these Brambly Hedge mice are the original cottagecore trendsetters. Because of that I want to spend a year at Brambly Hedge. So here on my channel you’re going to get to see me work on some Brambly Hedge themed projects starting with this video.
They won’t be each video I do, I’m going to aim for one a season. But I hope you’ll join me in using this time to think about the themes of these books, and finding joy in the things that comforted us as children.
When the days are the shortest, the nights are the coldest,
The frost is the sharpest, the year is the oldest,
The sun is the weakest, the wind is the hardest,
The snow is the deepest, the skies are the darkest,
Then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest,
And dress in your richest and finest and best…
For winter has brought you the worst it can bring,
And now it will give you
The promise of SPRING!
Get the Brambly Hedge books
A Year in Brambly Hedge storybook collection – https://amzn.to/347Ktt4
The Brambly Hedge Complete Collection – https://amzn.to/3pyGrBn
Sea Story – https://amzn.to/3K6FOXy
The Secret Staircase – https://amzn.to/3K8KUmk
Poppy’s Babies – https://amzn.to/3pzWuyS
Brambly Hedge Collection Jill Barklem 8 Books Set – https://amzn.to/3MiO9JB
The High Hills – https://amzn.to/3Mmhy5J
Midwinter poem – https://bramblyhedge.com/spring-is-in-sight/
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