Darius Bell, the irrepressibly divine hero of Darius Bell and the Crystal Pool (CBCA Book of the Year 2010 winner) is back in this second installment by well-loved Australian author Odo Hirsch.
The bees are dying. And not only the bees from Mr and Mrs Deaver’s hives. All the bees in the region are carking it. They’re not swarming. There’s no suspected foul play. What on earth could be going on?
And worse – how will Mr Fisher – the gardener of the Bell Estate, responsible for feeding the Bell family and most of the township with luscious fruit and veg – harvest an unpollinated crop? An unfertilised orchard? A pollen-free field? Blossoms are poised to open, and without bees – things are looking rather dire for the entire township.
Then there’s the honey. How on earth will the Bell’s cook, Mrs Simpson, make her famous cakes and pies without honey?
Darius is desperate to help. He doesn’t want the town to lose its fresh produce crop. He doesn’t want Mr and Mrs Fisher and their daughter Margeurite to move away to find work, so with the aid of his school chums Oliver Roberts and Paul Klasky (of the warmly funny adage-repeating fame), he sets about discovering how on earth he can replace the bees.
Crashing an Apiarists’ meeting at the council chambers, Darius is heartened by the possibility that bees could be brought in from other regions for temporary respite, but as he does so villainously in the first book, awful mayor – Mr Podcock – stops at nothing to kybosh their plans.
With a delightful subplot featuring a lovely science teacher, a prickly principal and a kooky costume parade, this is another round of old-fashioned story-telling by Hirsch. The divine, almost comical characters and dialogue are definitely Hirch’s forté – there is a real knack for creating the good, the bad and the ugly in his books, and Darius and his cast of characters are pure delight.
Plotting is similarly beautifully-executed, though I was disappointed with the seemingly endless repetition in the book – to the point of eye-rolling. Either this is an editing fault or the author is underestimating the ability of children to ‘get it’ the first time. Although the reiteration of the fact that plants need bees to pollinate them in order to fruit was aggravating, Hirsch used this repetition well when it came to the bumbling inability of Hector Bell to absorb anything on a scientific level, being that his sensibilities dwelt solely within the literary world.
I was also disappointed with the misnomer in the Crystal Bees title. I had conjured great, anticipatory images of some fantastical, magical, mechanical bees created with some of the light-as-feather magic contained in the first book, but this failed to materialise, and indeed, the only reference to crystal is that Darius gets his Big Idea for finally solving the bee crisis, whilst visiting the Crystal Pool.
Nevertheless, this is another entertaining read, with a catalogue of endearing characters and another beautifully-crafted comeuppance ending that will satisfy the humanitarian in us all.
Did you know? Odo Hirsch was born in Melbourne. His real name is David Kausman.
Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees is published by Allen & Unwin.