Once Upon a Hillside – Angela McAllister

Illustrated By: Chiara Fedele
Published By: Zephyr (Head of Zeus)
Pages: 224
Released On: 10/11/2022

Once upon a hillside, the hedgerows were loud with sparrows and thick with blossom. Blue butterflies flitted over the anthills, lapwings danced in the big sky. And time passed…’

Beginning with a Neolithic clan, who leave an arrowhead later found by a Roman boy, then a Roman mosaic found by a medieval herbalist and her daughter, relics of past lives and people are embedded there – left in one story and found in the next. Following in their footsteps are a Civil War runaway, an eighteenth-century shepherd, a Victorian archaeologist and a nineteenth-century botanist – all play a part in the history of the hillside, just as it has played a part in their lives.

Wilderness, weather, history, archaeology and folklore infuse each tale. With gorgeous illustrations of the wildlife and surrounding landscape at different points in history, this glorious full-colour, gift book is a celebration of the enduring power of nature and lives well lived.

*****

Thanks to Zephyr for the gifted copy of this title in return for an honest review and a spot on the book tour.

I really am loving children’s books this year, we have been properly spoilt. As much as I love a good hard-hitting, thrilling adult book, sometimes we just want the innocence and joy of a kids book. And this is technically seven books in one, giving us short stories set as far back as 6,000 years ago to the present day.

The illustrations are gorgeous! Simple enough to be child friendly but detailed enough for adults to appreciate. There’s a number of pages I’d love to print out and frame, they’re that beautiful.

It’s a surprise historical hit. It’s an entertainment book on the surface, but it really makes history accessible and would help set kids up on their way to study more. I’ve taken a look at her other books online and I think they’d be great to have in a school library – fun and intelligent.

Being an adult and reading it for myself, meant I didn’t read it out loud, but you can still sense this lyrical quality to the sentences. I’ve got 7 children in my family aged 2-10 and I think this would be a good one to read to them in the winter evenings.

Everything is so expertly described, from the wind to the food to the clothes and scenery. It puts you smack bang in the middle of these stories and you become a character yourself.

I suppose with short stories you can dip in and out, reading one story at a time. But if you’re like me, you’ll just read through them. They’re all separate stories in different time periods and with different characters and theme, and yet they all flow together so brilliantly. I love how they’re subtly linked too, showing us that we’re all linked and out actions can impact the future.

I love the link with nature. As we age, we tend to take the natural world for granted. We’re not as amazed by the trees or a frozen leaf or by the insects as young children are, and I think that’s a shame. This brings nature to the front and centre.

I was lucky enough to receive a physical copy and a digital copy and they’re both equally as wonderful. The text is wonderful and the illustrations just pop.

I repeat, it’s been a great year for kids books and this is no different.

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