Hazel and the Snails is an enchanting, thoughtful book, suited to readers about eight years old (give or take). Hazel, an energetic and matter-of-fact young girl probably about six or seven herself, is a super snail sleuth. We follow Hazel from home to school – along with her snails, who live in a cardboard box under her bed and are lovingly transported wherever she goes. Ms Taylor, a teacher a bit like Matilda’s Miss Honey says with a smile that ‘Snails are welcome at school but not on top of desks’.
This short chapter book deals with the serious issues of the illness of a loved one, death and grief from the point of view of a child. As Hazel’s dad progressively worsens, meaning Mum is away more while Hazel and her nose-studded brother Henry are looked after by her grandmother, Hazel remains absorbed in her snails and everyday adventures. Hazel lives in a distinctly contemporary New Zealand (I love the references to WeetBix and to Lilybee Wrap).
Hazel and the Snails shows, in a very everyday way, what it looks and feels like to be Hazel and sensitively introduces the idea of death and dying in a child’s life. I found myself thinking of the adventures of Milly-Molly-Mandy as I thumbed its pages – and was rewarded to see a reference to Milly-Molly-Mandy herself partway through! A lovely, honest and simple story by a first-time children’s author, complemented by pencil drawings by Giselle Clarkson. Grown ups will enjoy the story too – and might indeed benefit from this insight into children’s minds.
I look forward to seeing what else new writer Nan Blanchard has up her sleeve.
Reviewed by Susannah Whaley
Hazel and the Snails
by Nan Blanchard
Published by Annual Ink