Once Upon a Hillside is a stunning collection of seven stories celebrating the changing landscape of a hillside first inhabited by humans 6,000 years ago to the present day. I was completely captivated by each of these beautifully told, lyrical stories which celebrate the natural environment and the lives of those who found a home on the hillside at different times throughout history.
The first story is that of Tani whose Neolithic clan make their home on the hillside, surrounded by everything they need to survive off the land. Will Tani be able to overcome the restrictions placed on her, and earn her place as a hunter? And will the discovery of a white bird in a piece of flint help her reach her goal?
In Roman times, twins Corio and Lucilla help an injured hare believed to be magical. Can Lucilla use her knowledge of herbs to heal the hare, or will it find a new place in the world?
Ailith lives in an abandoned cottage with her herbalist mother during the Middle Ages. When she and her mother are accused of harming others, will she be able to uncover the real culprit before she loses her home and perhaps her life?
During the English Civil War, orphan Liddy finds a job as a crow-scarer on a farm where he meets and befriends a lonely shepherd and his dog. When a storm comes, Liddy makes a discovery that will change his life forever …
Clara, a young Victorian girl, is looking for adventure and finds it when she becomes involved in solving a mystery at her grandfather’s excavation site. Could what she discovers in an old shepherd’s hut lead her to find out who is behind the strange events at the site?
In the 1930s, siblings Peggy, Dennis and Stanley are sent from the city to stay with Aunty May in her cottage after their father loses his job. When exploring the hillside, they find a seemingly unused den, but what if someone else wants it back?
The final story takes the reader to the present where Amari is visiting her Granny Down in her cottage. Can Amari’s hope to keep her Granny in her beloved home come true when she makes her wish on a wishing tree?
I loved the interconnectedness of each story through the characters appreciation of the natural environment and through their shared experiences of having the strength to be themselves, of overcoming problems and of finding a place where they belong. I also loved how relics, once precious and special objects from preceding stories, were found by children in subsequent stories. This is a wonderful way to make links between the present and past in each story and to show that objects can tell stories.
This is an exquisite hardback illustrated edition that would make a very special gift for readers, one to be cherished and returned to again and again. The hardback cover showcases the plants, animals and objects reflected in the stories. The endpapers perfectly portray the changing landscape of the hillside throughout the seven stories. Each story begins with a gorgeous, detailed two-page spread of the landscape with an intriguing line to introduce the story. I loved noticing how the landscape both changes over time but remains instantly recognisable, maintaining a wildness and beauty throughout. The beautiful illustrations throughout encapsulate each story perfectly with their depiction of the landscape, the flora and fauna, and the vividness of the lives of the people within.
Once Upon a Hillside is an incredibly special, utterly delightful collection imbued with the wild beauty and constancy of nature; with folklore, history and archaeology: stories of lives lived throughout the ages, connected through the landscape, through the need for friendship and belonging, and through relics of past lives. These stories are sure to enchant readers as they enjoy the journey into the past, and delight in the gorgeous illustrations.
Thank you so much to Zephyr Books and Polly Grice for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour, and for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.
Angela McAllister has been published consistently since 1987, writing original fiction for all ages and also published several bestselling collections of folk tales. Her work has won many awards, including The Red House Book Award and The American Folklore Society’s ‘Aesop Award’. Angela lives in Dorset. Follow her on instagram @angelamcallisterbooks.
Chiara Fedele was born in Milan and now lives in a nearby village. She took a degree in Illustration at La Scuola del Fumetto. Chiara works with Italian and international publishers. She has won a number of awards including the Premio Cento Illustrator Competition in 2008, Sydney Taylor Award Silver Medal in 2018 and 3×3 International Illustration Award Merit in 2019. See more of her work at chiarafedeleillustrator.it or on instagram @chiaraillu.
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