I loooove children’s books. I think you know this. Here and here and here, are just a couple of postings on children’s books that inspire and speak to this growing-older child. And Jill Barklem’s stories of Brambly Hedge are among the many that continue to inspire and speak to me.
Like Beatrix Potter, Jill Barklem’s watercolored drawings of small animals in their habitat are a delight to the eye. I love their perspective. Beauty in brambles, take-notice-lovelies in unnoticed places: base of trees, bushes, hedges, brambles, thickets and the like. Jill creates a world of mice…their tree homes and palaces, their stump store, their country cousins in the woods. I’ve been inspired to seek out these places in and around my home here in Kernersville. Even though I live in suburbia, these unnoticed places abound, and I’m going to look for them and draw them.
The illustrations are the crowning glory to each story. Maddie and I turned each page with a gasp at the incredible details and colors Barklem uses to bring her Brambly Hedge to life. But the stories themselves create this fascinating world even if you didn’t have the illustrations to go with them. Her words are crafted, much like her drawings, to show you just what she wants you to see. You’re drawn in (haha!) and held captive.
The wonder and strength of a children’s book happens when we see ourselves in it. I have a hardbound compilation of all four seasons of Brambly Hedge. And beginning with Spring, I found a lot of myself in Wilfred, the little mouse who wakes up on his birthday, with a hardly-can-wait excitement about what lies ahead. He receives his gifts from his parents in the morning, delighting in them through the early hours. Unbeknownst to him, the whole Hedge is planning a surprise birthday picnic. All is hustle and bustle, with no one seeming to care or notice that it’s his birthday. They all gather at the Palace Oak with loads of provisions for a grand picnic, which must be carried quite a ways to the perfect field. Everyone carries something. Wilfred is given a huge, heavy basket to carry, which he can’t. Neighbors give him a wheelbarrow to make the load a bit easier and he huffs and puffs his way up hill and down dale to his final destination of exhaustion. Sullen and weary, Wilfred sits down on the basket as the others get everything ready for the picnic.
At some point, a mouse asks Wilfred to get the knives out of his basket so they can begin eating. As he opens the basket he has trudged all that way, he sees gobs of presents and a beautiful birthday cake right in the middle. All exhaustion flees, he understands what’s been going on, delight fills him and the Hedge mice as they feast together in honor of this little one’s birthday.
And I wonder- Isn’t this so much like me? How I trudge through life, muchtimes sullen and exhausted, carrying a basket full of what feels like rocks, getting heavier and heavier as I go along. Yes, others are helping me, but it’s my perspective, my sight, that’s skewed.
I, like Wilfred, have no clue what’s inside the basket.
I, like Wilfred, have no clue where we’re headed.
Yet unlike Wilfred, I have Jill Barklem’s story and Ann Voscamp’s book, to open my eyes. To help me see the unbelievable gifts in my basket. To encourage me to stop and open this basket along the way. To name the presents one by one. Yes, it’s all in our perspective and our ability to see. I’m blinded by everyday’s trudging. I’m being reminded to open the basket and be delighted by the gifts given just to me, for me, and it’s not even my birthday.
In fact, I’m beginning to see new things, each day, being added to the basket. And somehow it isn’t making the load heavier with each new gift being tossed in. Somehow, just somehow, the load feels a bit lighter, not so grueling. Yes, there is exhaustion, but it’s tinged with contentment rather than resentment.
And though, I’ve still no clue where I’m headed during this life, I do know it’s something good. And on that Final Day, it’s gonna be a grand picnic, a huge celebration of all our birthdays! I can’t wait to peer into my basket and see all the gifts I’ve counted and revelled in along the way. It’s gonna be stuffed to the brim!
In fact, I think I’m gonna need a bigger basket!