The positive reception of the first Four Seasons of the Brambly Hedge book series had taken Jill by surprise in the early eighties, and it soon became clear that she would not be putting down her trusty brown pen and extensive range of paintbrushes any time soon. She took the mice on new adventures, high into the upper canopy of the Old Oak Palace in The Secret Staircase in 1983, even higher into the High Hills in 1986, down to the coast in Sea Story in 1990, and then back home to nest with Poppy’s Babies 30 years ago in 1994.

Jill always had ideas for new books floating around in her head, and largely that’s where they stayed! However, we are lucky to have a vast archive of her notes and sketches, many of which involve meticulous research for each of the published eight books, but also the saplings of other potential projects.

Her research for Poppy’s Babies can trace its way back to the Secret Staircase, which you may recall features an old nursery with toys, puzzles, and a four poster cot! Jill had lots of books about children’s toys and furniture through the ages, as well as collecting items from various antique shops. She also visited the V&A Museum of Childhood (now Young V&A), just a short London Underground journey from her home in Epping to Bethnal Green in East London. This extensive research and first-hand experience of bringing up little scamps like yours truly, all provided useful source material for book eight.

The landscape illustration scene of kitchen chaos in the middle of the book is very reminiscent of the Barklem household in the 1980s, even the oil lamp hanging over the table is illustrated directly from the actual oil lamp that sat on our kitchen table at the time. To this day, we are still finding household items and kitchen utensils that appear in illustrations within the pages of her books.

It’s no coincidence that Poppy’s Babies is set in late May, it was Jill’s favourite month. With new life flourishing, hawthorn in blossom, a white haze of cow parsley and wild garlic flowers; the air fills with verdant freshness as spring drifts into summer.

In this book, the Brambly Hedge community notice that Poppy and Dusty are struggling with their new babies in the noisy flour mill, so they all club together to transform a derelict hawthorn tree into a freshly painted and far more suitable home: Mayblossom Cottage. The theme of community working together to help those in need runs deep in this story, and it’s a narrative that forms the backbone of many of the most popular stories today. A little kindness goes a long way.

Whilst it’s sad that Poppy’s Babies was Jill’s last full book before illness interrupted her work, we are very lucky to have the eight books she produced.

Throughout May and June 2024 we will be posting some behind the scenes and archive material from Poppy’s Babies on our social channels, so keep an eye out for those.

Enjoy the rest of Spring, and here’s hoping for a glimmer of sunshine in early summer!

Pete Barklem
Early May 2024