By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison

By Ash, Oak and Thorn – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: The author’s wisdom shines throughout.
Children’s book title: By Ash, Oak and Thorn.
Children’s author: Melissa Harrison.
Genre: Middle-grade fiction.
Published by: Chicken House Books.
ISBN: 9781913322120
Recommended for children aged: 9-12.
First published: Paperback May 2021.
This children’s book is ideal for: all readers aged 9 + (and everyone who has an imagination and cares about planet earth).


By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison

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Our review:

The first thing to say is that I loved this book.

It arrived with a seed paper tag attached to the cover and I was soon happily engaged and following the instructions – Plant, Water, Sun, Grow – and potting the seed paper. I have been promised flowers and I hope I’m not disappointed.

The story follows the journey of three little people – Moss, Burnet and Cumulus, as they travel from the relative safety of their home in the garden of 52 Ash Row (Suburbia, Ash), to the dangers of The Hive (City, Thorn) via the springtime countryside (Oak).

The journey is made in an attempt to discover if they are now the last of their kind or if the persistent rumours that more Hidden Folk are alive and well in the countryside are true. Along the way, they meet many wild creatures and overcome many obstacles and they are transported by rides from deer and pigeons. Moss tells us that the rides were

” … exhausting and terrifying and wonderful, all at the same time.”

If you find this talk of little people and Hidden Folk rather off-putting and twee, don’t worry, these characters, along with all the other wild creatures, once played a key role as guardians of the Wild World and they are worthy of our appreciation and admiration. I was convinced that the secret world of wild creatures not only exists but that we need to understand and promote it if we are to survive. We must learn how to live together, the wild creatures know this, but mortals are still learning the essential lessons of harmony.

This harmony is realised beautifully when Melissa Harrison describes the relationships between the animals in the Wild World. Moss has gone missing and the others are frightened of meeting Vesper, a vixen enlisted to help them find their friend, but they are told that they can trust her and … “the moment they were looking up at the vixen’s beautiful golden eyes, they found that they could communicate quite easily…..just as they had with all the other creatures they had met.”

The author’s wisdom shines throughout the book. She can be serious – “The world doesn’t stop when something terrible happens. One of the most awful things about a tragedy is the way everything just…. carries on”, and she can be humorous and astute – “If you’re a neat person, it can be very hard to live among disorder – though there’s nothing more irritating to messy people than having someone “helpfully” put away all their things.

Movingly she expresses the sadness of our broken relationship with the Wild World – “Mortals often harm the Wild World, knowingly and unknowingly – but that’s only because they don’t know we are their brothers and sisters. Just imagine how lonely that must be ….I think that is a terrible burden to bear.

During my reading I was asking myself the obvious questions – what have we done to our planet? And why have we allowed this to happen? The book is a love letter to the earth in crisis and Melissa Harrison’s story confronts my questions, and many others, by showing us a Wild World that is disappearing at a frighteningly rapid rate and exploring mankind’s relationship with the natural world. The author never suggests that we Mortals are natural destroyers but that we are just ignorant and misguided.

In her Note from the Author, she tells us that “the only creature that’s forgotten how to communicate with the Wild World is we humans.” Thankfully her tone is never preachy or overtly political; she makes her views known clearly and firmly and you are never in doubt as to where she stands.

Approach this book with your disbelief suspended and your imagination receptive and you will be welcomed, as I was, into the Wild World.

I not only loved this book, I believed every word of it and as I water my seed paper I shall look at my garden, and the promise of the worlds within it, with renewed hope. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not too late.

Many thanks to Chicken House Books for the review copy.

If you like By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison you might also like: The Marvellous Land of Snergs by Veronica Cossanteli, Darwin’s Dragons by Lindsay Galvin, Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, The Time Traveller and the Tiger by Tania Unsworth, I Ate Sunshine For Breakfast by Michael Holland, and our list of recommended year 5 books.


Browse more books for KS2 or why not have a look at our year 5 books?



About Patrick Sanders

Photo of author
Patrick is a former secondary English teacher and headteacher with over 35 years of experience. He is a husband, father and grandfather.