Years ago I stumbled upon the Brambly Hedge stories by Jill Barklem while browsing in the children's section of my local library. The stories are about the mice who live Brambly Hedge -- a hedgerow in the English countryside.
First published in 1980, Ms. Barklem's first stories begin with seasons as the theme... The Spring Story, The Summer Story, The Autumn Story, and The Winter Story... But I didn't read those until much later. My introduction into the world of Brambly Hedge was with Barklem's fifth book, The Secret Staircase.
In this tale, the mice of Brambly Hedge are busy preparing for the traditional Midwinter's Eve Celebrations, including a ball. While rehearsing for their part in the celebrations, two of the mice children, Primrose and Wilfred stumble upon an old dusty staircase leading to places unknown... The rest of the story is filled with the type excitement and fun a child might imagine would occur upon finding a secret staircase.
Each of Barklem's books are simple and sweet and a wonderful read aloud to children ages 4-8, though I myself enjoyed them even later in life. But what I believe truly won me over was the illustrations. I love the world Ms. Barklem creates in her watercolor pictures.
Since their success in the 80s, Ms. Barklem went on to write eight additional books related to the original eight, her most recent published in 2005. In addition, the Brambly Hedge series has inspired a set of fine China by Royal Doulton (now limited availability), children's videos, and figurines, though now only available from individuals selling on EBay.
I know very little about Ms. Barklem, other than she has an interest in natural history and traditional rural customs and crafts of England. These interests are obvious in the telling of her stories as well as the beautiful drawings. She spent five years researching before she began to write the stories. From the official Brambly hedge website it does not appear she will be writing any more in the near future. Her last update was in the winter of 2004.
This is truly a shame because I love her books and recommend them to anyone with children or even the child at heart. Unfortunately almost all of the Brambly Hedge books are out of print. But you can still find used copies through Amazon and EBay and prices vary from a couple dollars to a hundred or so depending on the book and the seller. If you are squeamish about buying a used copy you might also check your local library.
The Brambly Hedge books are a treasure in my library and I hope you will take the time to track down one or two to see for yourself.