Vivienne Wilkes has written a delightful children’s story in Tales from Moseley Bog: The Voles of Old, which I would highly recommend. With the same enchantingly English feel as The Wind in the Willows and Peter Rabbit, this story tells the adventures of a colony of field voles who look to the return of their distant relatives, the water voles, to bring health and prosperity back to their home in Moseley Bog.
Ms. Wilkes has painted a beautiful world which she consistently describes through the eyes of her tiny characters and enriches with a wealth of quaint, story-appropriate word pictures. For instance, in describing old Melick’s den, she writes “…roots stretched down through the earth, criss-crossing his chamber like long, thin claws.” And she illustrates a roadway of cars as “a river of gigantic boulders, hurtling along one after another.” And by the riverbank, Rye says, “This place feels very heavy, as though many moon-passings have squashed layers of life together. Like huge boulders pressing into the ground. Into my mind!” It is this setting – with its exquisite details and quaint place names like Old World and Deep Way – and Ms. Wilkes poetic prose that spin the pages of this story into magic.
Rye and Melick are just two of the interesting characters that inhabit Moseley Bog. Each member of the vole colony has been endowed with a special skill that, when used collectively, helps ensure the survival of all. Old Melick is the Past Master, the keeper of memories, and young Rye is a Rememberer in training. Foxtail, from whose perspective the story is told, is a Way Finder – a wanderer who seeks safe paths for the others.
When Foxtail catches a glimpse of an unusual animal, he runs to tell wise Melick and learns of the Voles of Old – water voles who moved away long ago when the streams and ponds became unclean. “Water voles live in the memories of field voles as symbols of healthy rivers and streams, and were thought to be lucky.” Melick confides to Foxtail that it is his wish to see one of these distant cousins before he Fades Away. Rye and Foxtail combine their talents and set out to make Melick’s wish come true. In their travels they encounter adventure after adventure, including cats, rabbits, dogs, an angry shrew, and a horrible run-in with the “bane” of Moseley Bog. And they meet a certain water vole who, at the end, returns to his own land bringing with him “stories of the courage, wisdom and spirit of meadow voles.”
At one point, Foxtail comments, “I wished I hadn’t asked about flaws. I think I was full of them.” Moseley Bog, too, includes a few. I found many typos scattered throughout the text (mostly incorrect quotation marks), some punctuation errors, way too many exclamation points, a POV slip or two, and several instances of redundancy when a thought is overwritten or a word repeated in close context. But I’ll admit I’m being very technical. And these minor blips do nothing to detract from the charm of the story. (***Early errors have since been fixed. The copy is very clean now.)
In conclusion, I think the last verse of one of Rye’s memories conveys very well the sweet essence of Moseley Bog:
Keep faith with the myths and the legends.
Forget not the truths that must last.
Give life to the lays, that tell of our days,
As the moons of our lives hurry past.
Ms. Wilkes’ story is well worth a read.
Approximate reading level: Read-aloud for K-3. Independent for 4th grade+.