Odo Hirsch - Sidelights
Brief BiographiesBiographies: James Heneghan (1930-) Biography - Personal to Rick Jacobson Biography - PersonalOdo Hirsch Biography - Awards, Honors, Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career
The pseudonymous Odo Hirsch is the author of such works as Antonio S. and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, Bartlett and the Ice Voyage, Hazel Green, and Yoss. A native of Australia who now makes his home in London, England, Hirsch is a physician by training, and he once worked for Amnesty International. After completing a master's degree in political thought at Cambridge University, Hirsch became a management consultant and also began writing children's books. As he commented on the Allen & Unwin Web site, "For me, writing is great fun. I get to make up a world and I get to look at that world with freshness and curiosity." In his works, Hirsch explores the world of discovery available to children when creating their own reality. In Antonio S. and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, for example, a boy discovers the magic of theater. Antonio, in a secret room in the rambling mansion where he lives, discovers a poster advertising a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet and becomes intrigued with the process of putting on a play. Encouraged by his magician father and professor mother, and guided by a mysterious neighbor, an elderly recluse named Theodore Guzman, Antonio and his friends set about creating and staging their own production. In a Magpies interview with Virginia Lowe, Hirsch commented that in Antonio S. and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman he "tries to capture certain elements of childhood—elements of inventiveness, discovery, learning, freshness. The book moves from a physical adventure . . . to an imaginative one." According to Geraldine Brennan in a Times Educational Supplement review, "Like the production, the story gets off to a slow start but gathers pace and deserves applause." School Library Journal contributor Ashley Larsen praised the novel, stating that "Antonio is fully developed as a clever, thoughtful, and creative boy," while in Magpies Kevin Steinberger hailed the book as "a rare junior novel of superb literary quality and classically engaging storytelling."
Hirsch's second children's novel, Bartlett and the Ice Voyage, is an adventure story populated with intrepid explorers and a busy young queen who rules seven countries. The tale, which a Publishers Weekly critic referred to as a "charming fantasy about the perils of desire," follows a quest set upon by the famous explorer Bartlett and his companion Jacques le Grand for an exotic fruit that the queen desires. The adventurers use their inventiveness, desperation, and perseverance in an attempt to grant the queen's request despite the machinations of petty courtiers who fuel the woman's impatience. Steinberger called Bartlett and the Ice Voyage "beautifully crafted with nary a word out of place," and Booklist critic Anne O'Malley stated that Hirsch "blends sparkling wit with engaging characters and great pacing that follows through till the suspensefully timed end."
The dashing explorer and his sidekick make their second appearance in Bartlett and the City of Flames. In this novel Bartlett, Jacques, and their friend Gozo are taken prisoner by guards from the City of the Sun. The trio is directed to the royal palace where Gozo is mistaken for Prince Darian, who has been kidnapped by the mysterious beings from Underground. Bartlett and Jacques realize that they must locate the true prince to help free their companion, and the duo employ "generous measures of ingenuity, perseverance, and desperation in pursuit of a seemingly impossible task," noted a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Nicolette Jones, reviewing Bartlett and the City of Flames in the London Sunday Times, praised the author's "measured, self-delighting prose, with witty dialogue, successful jokes, surprises, a happy sprinkling of satire, and a gently didactic wishfulness about how people should behave better." "Well-paced action augmented by quirky characters and exotic settings make this sequel to Bartlett and the Ice Voyage a fast, enjoyable read," observed Corrina Austin in School Library Journal.
A forgotten city in the jungle is the setting for the third "Bartlett" tale, Bartlett and the Forest of Plenty. When Bartlett, Jacques, and Gozo enter the Forest of Plenty in search of adventure, they are pitted against a mystifying enemy who seeks to control their movements. The 2003 work Bartlett and the Island of Kings continues to follow the brave threesome, this time to a remote island ruled by a quartet of kings. While investigating a secretive figure who disappears seemingly at will, Bartlett, Jacques, and Gozo find themselves in peril when a towering volcano begins to erupt.The title character of Hazel Green is a determined girl with a formidable task: to revive the tradition of having children participate in her city's annual Frogg Day parade. She takes on the uncooperative parade organizer, Mr. Winkel, and is wrongfully accused of stealing the recipe for Chocolate Dippers by Mr. Volio, the pastry chef. Fortunately, Hazel has many people to vouch for her, including the mathematician Yak and Mrs. Gluck the floral arranger. According to Booklist reviewer Shelle Rosenfeld, Hirsch "has created an imaginative, outspoken protagonist for his charming tale," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor described Hazel as "a young mover-and-shaker who will stay with readers for a long time." Magpies reviewer Jo Goodman dubbed Hazel Green "delightful," and stated that "Hirsch deftly establishes a vivid cast of characters."
The resourceful, energetic Hazel returns in Something's Fishy, Hazel Green! After a pair of lobsters are stolen from Mr. Petrusca's store, Hazel attempts to find the culprit. Her only clue is a cryptic message, written in a secret code, that was left behind by the thief. Hirsch examines themes of discrimination and fairness in Have Courage, Hazel Green!, and in Think Smart, Hazel Green!, he describes Hazel's efforts to help the neighborhood baker renew his bakery shop lease.
Hirsch has written for a young-adult audience as well as for younger readers. His novel Yoss concerns a fourteen-year-old boy who leaves his remote medieval village as part of a traditional rite of passage. Though Yoss is expected to return the following day, he decides to journey on, encountering a pair of ruffians who involve him in a crime. Yoss is later caught and enslaved by the merchant he robbed, and his harsh treatment while at the merchant's home strengthens his resolve to escape. Unlike some of Hirsch's other books, Yoss received a mixed reception from reviewers. A Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that the innocence of the novel's young protagonist "stands in marked contrast to the corruption he encounters at every turn, but he's also passive and a bit of a bore," and Connie Tyrell Burns, writing in School Library Journal, noted, "While much transpires in this coming-of-age tale that mixes fantasy, historical fiction, and adventure, the pace tends to be slow." More enthusiastic about the work, Horn Book contributor Susan P. Bloom remarked that "Hirsch provides plenty of action," and Booklist critic Jennifer Mattson praised the author's "vivid evocation of the disorienting universe Yoss enters and, eventually, leaves, both wiser and tougher than when he arrived."
Speaking to Lynne Babbage in Reading Time, Hirsch attributed his ability to write so well for children to being surrounded by a large extended family, and for his ability to look at the world through a child's eyes. That, and years of observing people and figuring out what makes them tick, have influenced his writing style. As Hirsch told Lowe in Magpies, "what one does with one's influences is to make them into a different mix, that's what makes it original and different."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Antonio S. and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, p. 1753; February 1, 2003, review of Bartlett and the Ice Voyage, pp. 994-995; June 1, 2003, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Hazel Green, p. 1776; September 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Yoss, p. 232.
Horn Book, September-October, 2004, Susan P. Bloom, review of Yoss, p. 585.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of Bartlett and the Ice Voyage, p. 1694; June 15, 2003, review of Hazel Green, p. 859; November 1, 2003, review of Bartlett and the City of Flames, p. 1311; September 1, 2004, review of Yoss, p. 867.
Magpies, July, 1998, Virginia Lowe, interview with Hirsch, pp. 14-16, and Kevin Steinberger, review of Bartlett and the Ice Voyage, p. 32; March, 1999, Jo Goodman, review of Hazel Green, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, March 12, 2001, review of Antonio S. and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, p. 91; November 25, 2002, review of Bartlett and the Ice Voyage, p. 68; October 25, 2004, review of Yoss, pp. 48-49.
Reading Time, May, 1999, Lynne Babbage, interview with Hirsch, pp. 2-3.
School Librarian, summer, 1999, Beverly Mathias, review of Antonio S. and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, p. 89.
School Library Journal, April, 2001, Ashley Larsen, review of Antonio S. and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman, p. 144; December, 2003, Corinna Austin, review of Bartlett and the City of Flames, p. 152; September, 2004, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Yoss, p. 208.
Sunday Times (London, England), June 4, 2000, Nicolette Jones, review of Bartlett and the City of Flames, p. 44.
Times Educational Supplement, March 5, 1999, Geraldine Brennan, "Dreams Meet Gritty Realism."
Allen & Unwin Web site, http://www.allen-unwin.com.au/ (January 5, 2005), interview with Hirsch.*