"Lessons start on the speakers. Urbs don't like that we farm kids are too busy to get educated, so lessons get played over the speakers while we work. Today's lesson's just for us. It's about the history of the bees. Not us. The real ones they used to have thirty years ago before the famines."
First off here is another one of my predictions. This book How to Bee just has to be shortlisted for our CBCA awards in 2017. YES it is that good!
It is the future but Bren MacDibble leaves the reader to imagine just what has happened in our world. I adore this kind of intelligent writing where there are hints but the author does not feel the need to spell everything out.
Whatever has happened there are now no bees and so children live and work on farms and while they are still young and agile they climb the fruit trees and perform the pollination. Away from the farms, city life is dangerous. Society is completely stratified - there are the mega rich and the desperately poor. The rich have retreated behind high walls with security guards. The poor wander the streets hands outstretched hoping for money or food. There is a strong undercurrent of violence.
Peony (what a perfect name for a child who longs to work as a bee) lives with her grandfather and little sister called Mags, short for Magnolia, on a fruit farm. Her mother visits infrequently from the city where she works. Peony longs for her mother to rejoin them on the farm so they can be a complete family but her mother has dreams of becoming rich and living in an idealized house with every comfort.
The story opens on a day when new bees will be selected. Peony is too young but she is determined to be chosen. She completes a trial run up the trees with her good friend Applejoy. He is selected to be a bee but Peony slips and falls.
"I pull the end of the wand out from the branches and start along a branch. A stick jams in my legs and I trip and fall straight out of the tree. I land on my stomach on the dirt. Pomz (Pomegranate) sniggers and scrambles up her tree. She's stuck the end of her wand into my legs!"
Peony's mother arrives to take her to work in the city in the home of a rich man who actually sells the fruit so carefully harvested and packed by the farm workers. Peony is amazed to learn only three people live in this enormous house. One is a spoilt but terrified young girl called Esmeralda. The two girls form an alliance. Peony helps Ez overcome her fear of being outside and Ez helps Peony escape back to the farm.
I have listed How to Bee for Middle readers in Years 4 and 5 but I do need to give a warning. There are some very violent scenes in this book when Peony is kidnapped by her mother and her mother's abusive boyfriend. Sensitive readers may find these scenes distressing.
There are a set of teacher notes on the publisher web site. Read this thoughtful review in Reading Time.
We have over thirty non fiction books in our school library about bees. It seems to have become a bit of an obsession of mine. You might like to read these reviews of The Book of Bees and Bee.
I would follow this book with Chance of Safety and older readers should look for the series Hidden Children which begins with Among and the Hidden.