The Appeal of the Tiny


I’ve always loved books about tiny people or creatures. I think that some of the attraction might lie in the detailed description of the world, the charm of seeing the world from a different perspective, and the appeal of a good underdog story.

The use of ‘borrowed’ ordinary objects as household items is a common trope. In Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, Arrietty Clock and her family live beneath the floorboards of a country house. They ‘borrow’ items from the ‘human beans’ who live above them – cotton reels to use as stools, stamps as pictures on their walls, drawing pins as candle holders. In The Rescuers by Margery Sharp, I seem to remember Bernard the mouse using an old matchbox as his bed – and very cosy it looked too!

In his final book, Billy and The Minpins, Roald Dahl writes about a boy who discovers a race of tiny people inhabiting a tree as a town; riding small birds to get from one part of the forest to another. In Toby Alone, Timothee de Fombelle employs a similar idea to explore a strong environmental message.

Billy and the Minpins cover

In her lovely Brambly Hedge series, Jill Barklem places a colony of mice inside various hedgerow trees. I recently bought myself the complete Brambly Hedge collection, and spent a gorgeous evening poring over the incredible cutaway illustrations. As a child in the countryside (I grew up on a 500 acre country estate where my father was head gardener), I loved the idea that any of the trees, tree stumps, or holes nearby could in fact be home to any number of cosy little families.

At the heart of all of these stories there’s a reminder that there’s more going on in this world than meets the eye, and that’s always worth remembering. The final line of Billy and The Minpins is apt: “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Aoife is the manager of Dubray Books Liffey Valley. She loves fantasy, history, natural history, mysteries, picture books (and all the rest really). Reader, tree lover, hobbit...

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