By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison

By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: valiant honest spirit working together.
Children’s book title: By Rowan and Yew.
Children’s author: Melissa Harrison.
Genre: Middle-grade fiction.
Published by: Chicken House
ISBN: 9781913322137
Recommended for children aged: 9+
First published: Paperback October 2021.
This children’s book is ideal for: imaginative children in KS2/3 that care about planet Earth.


By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison

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Our review:

I first met Moss, Burnet and Cumulus, earlier this year, in By Ash, Oak and Thorn as they made the perilous journey from the relative safety of their home in the suburban garden of 52 Ash Row to the dangers of the city, The Hive, via the springtime countryside, in an attempt to discover if they are now the last of their kind on earth. During their journey they were joined by Sorrel, another of “their kind”, and the trio became a band of four. They are “little people”, about as high as your hand, and are members of the Hidden Folk. These people once played a vital role as guardians of the Wild World. If you find this talk of little people, Hidden Folk and the Wild World all rather childish and precious please don’t worry as you will soon discover that these characters, who are now in grave danger of disappearing forever, are worthy of our appreciation and admiration.

In her note from the author, Melissa Harrison tells us – “This is a story about the secret world of wild creatures that exist all around us at every moment … if you are a noticing kind of person, you might well pick up clues to this secret world when you’re playing outside: things like neatly nibbled nutshells, interesting looking holes and paths, mysterious droppings, or footprints in mud or snow.” After reading both of the books I am convinced that the secret world of these hidden, wild creatures not only exists but that we need to understand and promote it if we are to survive. Quite simply, we must learn how to live together. The wild creatures know this, but we mortals are still learning the essential lessons of living at one with each other.

It is now the beginning of September and change is in the air, the time has come for the little people to leave their new friends in the city and to make their way back to Ash Row. The journey home is filled with danger. There are many obstacles to their progress and the late autumn storms and the first frosts of winter are additional hazards to overcome. The journey reveals many important things; the beauty and balance of the natural world, the futility of mankind’s greed and selfish exploitation of the environment and perhaps most important of all, the vital importance of friendship and living together in harmony. This last point is emphasised by the welcome optimism of the final chapter.

I was reading By Rowan and Yew at the same time as the recent COP 26 Conference in Glasgow and during my reading, I was again asking myself the rather obvious questions – what have we done to our wonderful planet and why have we allowed this to happen? Melissa Harrison’s story confronts my questions, and many others, because central to By Rowan and Yew is the frightening fact that one by one the little people are disappearing – fading away until nothing will be left. Spangle, a starling, has the sad task of breaking the news to Moss, Burnet and Sorrel that Cumulus has finally disappeared:

“Cumulus has disappeared,” said Spangle bluntly. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. I wish it was better news.”Moss started to cry. “Gone …..completely?” whispered Burnet…..And they sat down by the riverbank and wept.

The parallels with our disappearing environment are powerfully obvious but, as in the first book, Melissa Harrison’s tone is never preachy or overtly political but she makes her views known clearly and firmly and the reader is never in doubt as to where she stands. Her descriptions of the beauty of the natural world are vividly accurate. She captures the redeeming freshness of snow in just a few lines:

“Moss gasped in utter surprise and delight: not only was everything white and cold, it was breathtakingly perfect and beautiful, as though everything that had gone wrong could somehow be forgotten.”

The language the author uses may be pastoral but her message is brutal in its honesty, we have to work together to save the world that we share with nature. We need to listen more and pontificate less. Approach this book with your disbelief suspended and your imagination receptive and you will be welcomed, as I was once again, into the Wild World.

The book is beautifully presented by Chicken House. The cover illustration captures the valiant spirit of the little people and the maps, and the author’s note and the Watching the Wild World – September to February add much to the overall reading experience. I now look at my garden and the promise of the worlds within it, as winter approaches, with renewed hope. After reading By Ash, Oak and Thorn, maybe, just maybe, it’s not too late.

Many thanks to Chicken House books for the review copy. Here’s a sample chapter to read via the Chicken House website.

If you like By Rowan and Yew by Melissa Harrison you might also like: By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison, White Fox in the Forest by Chen Jiatong, The Marvellous Land of Snergs by Veronica Cossanteli, Challenge Everything by Blue Sandford, I Ate Sunshine For Breakfast by Michael Holland, The Big Green Activity Book by Damara Strong, and our list of Environment, climate change and eco topic books.


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About Patrick Sanders

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