By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison: A Beautiful and Perilous Journey

Whether we live in the countryside or city, we are surrounded by the natural world. All too frequently, we forget to really look at what is actually around us. We also forget the small beings, elements and circumstances that are in play all the time pushing us forward and back against the tide of ‘progress.’ Here’s a new book to take us on this journey. And it is wonderful!


author: Melissa Harrison

illustrations: Lauren O’Hara

Cover/interior design: Helen Crawford-White

Chicken House Books (5 May 2021)

ISBN: 9781913322120

One by one, on a bright, early spring morning, three little people no bringer 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. Harrison doesn’t so much create a world as she does show us what it really there; what has always been there, if we have eyes to see. Lovingly painted characters and landscapes expose a world of tiny beings, the overlooked environment of our day-to-day life. 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 we consider important and everything we miss or ignore in the world. They want to understand why some humans (most usually children) can see and speak to them and others seem to forget. (There is a short, wonderful scene in the beginning when a young child, Ro discovers them and can even speak the language of natures’ creatures, the Wild Argot. Really makes you wonder!)

The incredible travels undertaken by the Hidden Folk is a quest for knowledge, as well as for kinship and comfort. And it takes the reader along with them, as if we are right by their side. It allows us to marvel at everything along the way. The Hidden Folk inspire us to be quizzical, considerate and bold as they are. They have great time for each others’ memories, for in memory sometimes comes the very answer they are looking for, or at least a clue. They are so very resourceful, and while working together, their individual gifts and quirks shine through. 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.

By Ash, Oak and Thorn couldn’t be more relevant in today. The story of a disappearing world; a vanishing way of life that echoes the impact of environmental change and a climate in crisis with exquisite writing and poignant of its’ 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, begging to be read again and again; By Ash, Oak and Thorn is truly extraordinary. Utterly magical and enthralling; rich in beauty and wildness, a perfect childrens summer read….honestly, it’s just amazing.

And, I am delighted to add that a sequel is forthcoming! By Rowan and Yew will be released in October 2021 (so, not long to wait.) It continues the travels of the Hidden Folk, returning to their former home in Ash Row to search for the child, Ro, who can see and talk to them…and maybe can help them save Cumulus from fading away forever. The tale begins as autumn arrives in the world, so I’m just going to take a leap of faith and say….I have no doubt this will be the perfect winter childrens book.

Thank you so, so much to Chicken House Books, in particular to Jasmine for sending me the review copy of this most beautiful story.

2 thoughts on “By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison: A Beautiful and Perilous Journey

    1. It’s so wonderful! It feels both classic and contemporary; timely and timeless…so lyrically written.
      This is Michelle Harrisons’ debut childrens book. I have read her adult books; particularly loved In Hawthorn Time. But By Ash, Oak and Thorn? Extraordinary!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s