The second instalment of Melissa Harrison’s first foray into writing books for children arrives and takes up pretty much where By Ash, Oak and Thorn left off: Moss, Sorrel, Burnet and Dormer, the Hidden Folk we were introduced to last time out, still have a conundrum on their hands: why are the Hidden Folk disappearing (disappearing in the way Marty McFly disappears in the first Back to the Future film, a little bit at a time until they are all the way gone).
Having travelled all the way to the Hive (a city to you and me) in the first book where they exchange Cumulus (their old faded Catweazle type friend) for the young Hob, Dormer (a Hob being one of the Hidden Folk who has made their home in the Hive), By Rowan and Yew opens with them travelling back to where they started (a journey that takes hardly any time at all now that they have friends like Spangle the starling).
Upon arrival back home, they call a grand meeting of every creature they can reach (leastways those not hibernating yet), including a rather grumpy older member of the Hidden Folk who has been aware of Moss and Burnet and Cumulus for a great many ‘cuckoo summers’ and thought they were ignoring him. Between them they hatch a plan (well, several plans if we’re being honest) to try and rescue the Hidden Folk and all the rest of the Wild World from the neglect and ignorance of us cotton picking mortal idiots.
As with the previous book, Harrison’s nature writing is impeccable, vividly bringing this world of tiny folk to life. The book’s subtle agenda – that we all need to pay a little more attention to the world around, that we could do with gardens that are a little less neat and a little more welcoming to wildlife, that we should stop hurrying about quite so much and pay a little less attention to the compelling black boxes we carry around with us – is as arresting as ever.
Perhaps the best thing about the book is that, whilst the challenge facing the Hidden Folk often feels insurmountable (we are talking about the ignorance of people, after all), Harrison finds a satisfying way of resolving the problem that (perhaps not surprisingly) comes within shouting distance of the climax of The Lorax.
Any Cop?: All things considered, we were left quietly hoping that this is not the last we hear from Harrison’s Hidden Folk (there is a little nod towards the spring), and we hope that children take these books to their heart and hear the lessons within.