The Perfect Picnic by Ciara Flood & Brambly Hedge at NiddFest

Is there anything more enjoyable than the perfect picnic? Living in the UK we have had our fair share of picnics in wind, cold weather or rain, sometimes all three. You just have to make do otherwise you might never have one! This is most definitely not the view of Squirrel in The Perfect Picnic by Ciara Flood (published by Templar Publishing).

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Best friends, Squirrel and Mole are heading out for a picnic and Squirrel has big plans for it, she wants it to be the “most perfect picnic ever.” Squirrel and Mole do everything together, they are inseparable, but they are complete opposites of each other too. Whilst Squirrel is a perfectionist (and to be honest a bit of a fuss-pot) Mole is as laid back and easy going as they come. Squirrel fusses over every detail of the picnic and Mole concedes to her every whim even if he would prefer things done differently.

Finding a spot for the picnic that pleases Squirrel is a real challenge, she wants it to be just perfect but the meadow is too sunny, the hill too windy, the beach too sandy… Eventually, they find the perfect spot and Squirrel is happy but something disastrous has happened along the way. Whilst they were searching for a spot the picnic bag ripped and all the food has fallen out. Squirrel is devastated, everything is ruined! Or is it? Time for Mole to step up and, with a little help from a few friends, he saves the day. Although it isn’t as perfect as she imagined Squirrel realises that doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy it.

The story is beautifully illustrated with an amazing amount of detail as we are enveloped in the world of Squirrel and Mole. Their houses contain tiny versions of everything you can think of, all drawn to perfection.

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So much of this story is told through these clever and detailed illustrations with the opposite personalities of the two friends highlighted in their houses and actions. The contents of the picnic falling out of the bag is told entirely through pictures. This is a wonderful feature of the story, the contents fall out without Squirrel or Mole noticing and being able to understand what someone else knows (or in this case, doesn’t know) is quite complex for little ones. Having no words to accompany these pictures is great as it will immediately open up a discussion between child and adult about what is happening.

One of my favourite things in a picture book is to find an illustrated map of the story and there is great one in the end papers of this book. In sepia tones and with a winding trail you can trace the path of Squirrel and Mole around all the different places they searched for their picnic spot.

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There’s a definite comparison to be made here with the work of Jill Barklem who wrote and illustrated the Brambly Hedge stories. The illustrations of Squirrel’s and Mole’s houses reminded me of Spring Story where we get a peek inside Crabapple Cottage where two mice called Mr and Mrs Apple live:

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(The image above is in The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books – shown below)

I wonder whether Squirrel has read the Brambly Hedge stories and wants their picnic to be as perfect? So perfect are the picnics in Brambly Hedge that they were made the theme for the children’s tent at NiddFest 2016, a literature festival celebrating words and nature held in Pateley Bridge in North Yorkshire.

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I took both my boys here on the search for a perfect picnic of our own. And on a beautiful, sunny English summer day we sat on hay bales and listened to the classic tales from Brambly Hedge being read to us by Jill Barklem’s daughter, Lizzie.

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It was a gorgeous event and perfect for families, there were colouring and craft activities, face painting and an endless supply of delicate fairy cakes inside the marquee. Outside on the grass were big deckchairs with lots of space for picnics and the Barrow Band who sung very funny songs about fruit and vegetables.

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The food was delicious and there was even a huge birthday cake just like the one in Spring Story for Wilfred’s birthday. I’m happy to inform you that it was as tasty as it looked.

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Thank you to NiddFest for a wonderful event and Lizzie and Peter Barklem for sharing your mother’s stories with us. We definitely had a perfect picnic and hope that somewhere in that field, a little squirrel and a mole had joined the mice from Brambly Hedge for a perfect picnic too.

Ciara Flood’s website showcases more of her fabulous work as well as tons of great activities and games.

You can find out more about NiddFest on their website here.

The Brambly Hedge website has details of all the books, an introduction to the characters and an online shop.

Many thanks to Templar Publishing for sending me a copy of The Perfect Picnic for review.

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