As children start to separate from their parents and to find their own sense of self – a process that typically starts at around the age of seven -  the archetype of the orphan often  comes to the fore. The child’s internalised ‘birth’ parents die away as she re-forges her relationships with them and reaches further into the outer world. Enter the orphan! In our day, by far the most famous orphan in children’s literature is Harry Potter. For me, as a seven-year-old girl, it was Hepatica, the heroine of a book called The House Above the Trees.

This story came into my life by courtesy of my Great Aunt, affectionately known as ‘Auntie Broox’, though her real name was Dorothy. Auntie Broox always gave me a book for Christmas, and one year it was this one. I think it came from her own childhood library. It was first published in 1921, and she would have been just the right age for it at that time. I haven’t been able to find out anything about the author, who was called Ethel Cook Eliot, because in those days publishers were not obliged to put nearly as much information about authors, illustrators and copyright in their books as they are now. Anyway, what captivated me about this story was Hepatica’s friendship with the fantastical people of the forest near the house where she is staying, and where she feels lonely and outcast. Her life is transformed when she meets Cloud, a zephyr-like being who whizzes about the treetops and who teaches her how to do the same. He is beautifully represented by the illustrations of Anne Anderson. He was without question the first boy I fell in love with. Cloud introduces Hepatica to the Tree Mother, a radiant and benign figure who presides over all of the creatures of the forest and who makes her home in the house above the trees. At a certain point in the story, the Tree Mother trusts Cloud and Hepatica enough to leave them in charge while she goes away on a special mission…

To find out what happens next, you have to read the book! Happily, it has recently been reissued in paperback by Raven Rocks Press. I still cherish my original and now rather dog-eared copy, which I re-read as a child more than any other book I owned. This book is definitely Number Two on the list of books that have changed my life.

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