Remember those carefree summer days when minutes seems liked hours and days felt never-ending? This glorious feeling has been perfectly encapsulated with On Sudden Hill. The book tells of the sweetly named Birt and Etho as they spend their days in cardboard boxes up on Sudden Hill, but these are no ordinary boxes; these are castles and ships; they are whatever they want them to be, the possibilities are as endless as the boys’ imaginations. One day a new boy named Shu asks to play and the friends' delicate dynamic shifts. Will Birt, Etho and Shu be able to recapture those magical days on Sudden Hill?
The first thing you’ll notice about On Sudden Hill is just how beautiful it looks. Benji Davies’ dreamy illustrations perfectly reflect the feeling of standing atop a windswept hill, the joy of being outdoors in the sunshine and the comfort of hiding from the rain, snug in a cardboard box. He’s captured the wonderment of childhood and is able to communicate loneliness and longing with a gentle touch. His imagery is wonderfully emotive and his subdued colour palette is sublime; it is quite possibly our favourite colour palette of the year. There’s a lovely sense of texture and movement to his pages where clouds sweep and flags swish and sway; littered with leaves, flowers, rabbits, chickens and ducks, these added details bring his pages to life. The boys themselves are adorable and each has his own distinct personality.
Davies’ illustrations are the perfect companion to Linda Sarah’s story. The two are so well matched that it’s hard not to think of this book as being created by an individual. Sarah’s text has a gorgeous rhythm, long and languid; this is not a book to rush through, it is a book to savour. Written almost like a fragmented memoir we are treated to those insignificant details that make each day standout a little from the next, the emotion is hinted at but never forced upon us and it’s a real masterstroke that we never feel the intrusion of adults; although Birt’s dad is mentioned, he is cleverly absent from the illustrations. Our memories of friends and of days spent like these are parentless too; adults would be an intrusion, a reality check; their absence allows us to wallow a little longer in this hazy memory where we can be whatever we want to be; where we are limitless.
A book about the joys and trials of childhood, how friendships are formed, tested and made to last; a reminder of how our young selves and young ones burst with imagination and are more fragile than we think. We remember summers just like this: the excitement, the pain, the loneliness and the magic. Achingly heartfelt and a complete nostalgia trip, On Sudden Hill is a must have.