Book review

Hazel Green by Odo Hirsch (1999)

She's a girl, not a place.

This is one of those books that bursts out all over you as you turn the pages. It's a simple story about a group of children who live in the same block of flats and get together to make a float for the local carnival. But it is much more than that too, because it's a story about how Hazel Green conceives and organizes the event.

Now, the world that Hazel Green lives in is a very ordinary world, and yet it is a fantasy world where bakers create wonderful pastries and invite you in for free samples; and where great mysteries of life are discussed in the florist's workroom:

'It must be at least twenty years,' said Mrs Gluck, thinking about the Frogg Day march again. 'But there was a time when the children of the Moodey Building were always in the march. It wouldn't have been complete without them.'
'Why not?' said Hazel.
'Well, Victor Frogg was born here. He grew up here, just like you, Hazel. So if anyone should represent him, it's the children. Just think: if you were born in the Moodey Building and grew up to be a great leader, who would you want to represent the Moodey Building: the adults or the children?'
'The children,' said Hazel. 'Adults don't know anything about what it's like to grow up.'
'Nothing,' added Marcus, shaking his head.
'Well, there you are,' said Mrs Gluck, and Hazel didn't know whether she was agreeing with her, or talking about the bouquet, which she had just finished.

It's a bit of a challenge for Hazel, to find out why children are never in the Frogg Day parade any more, and to talk her way back into the parade, for herself and all the children of the Moodey Building.

Of course, things get a bit tricky. There's the moment when the local mathematician announces that the float is so badly designed that it is bound to topple over in the wind. And there's the moment when Hazel is unjustly accused of the ultimate industrial espionage - revealing the baker's secret pastry recipe to the competition. These are very important issues and treated in deadly earnest by Hazel. She's a very determined person:

Hazel fixed the Yak with her most penetrating gaze, which she used only in the most extreme circumstances. It almost hurt to gaze like that - she hardly dared imagine what it must be like to be on the receiving end.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a beautifully told story with a brilliant mixture of solemn and humorous:

Hazel frowned. 'Do you think Yakov would mind seeing me, Mrs Plonsk?'
'I don't know. You would have to ask Yakov.'
They both thought about that for a moment. No, it wouldn't work, because Hazel would have to see him first in order to ask him.
'Why don't I ask him?' said the Yak's mother.
Hazel thought that would be a very good idea.
'Come in, then,' she said, and closed the door behind Hazel.

If you want to know what goes on behind the closed door, you will have to read the book. And I'm sure you will love it, and have a bit of a laugh, too.

What can I read next?

Odo Hirsch tells a great story! If you enjoy Hazel Green, you might like to look at the other books that he has written:

And you might also like to look at something by Stephen Elboz, who also sets real characters in a fantasy world:

Also Joan Aiken has built an entire alternative history of England full of fantastic and wild adventuring. Have a look at:

You could have a look at this one by Alan Temperley:

Of course, Dick King-Smith always tells a charming story about real people, and lots of animals. You could look at practically anything by him:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

Hazel Green features in these lists: