Sionbhe Lally, A Hive for the Honeybee (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 1996/1999)

Thora is a worker bee, dedicated to the tasks of maintaining the hive with her sister bees. Her worked started at her birth as a bee: cleaning brood cells, fanning cells, and tending the honey and pollen supplies before becoming a field bee who harvests nectar and pollen. Thora also helps feed, groom, and maintain the male drones, whose only purpose is to mate with the Queen, and not all of them will do that. The drones, filled with self importance, think that they are the rulers of the hive.

Her best friend is Belle, a bee with a tongue as sharp as her stinger, but a good friend, all the same. Thora also makes friends with two of the male drones, a poet named Alfred and Mo, a drone born to question authority. Through her friendship with the two drones, Thora gets a glimpse of something beyond the endless work of the hive, something sweet as nectar but far less obtainable.

Lally is no sentimentalist, and mild anthropomorphism aside, bee life in Thora's hive progresses as it must. The new Queen goes on her mating flight, leaving a trail of dead drones in her wake; worker bees die in attacks by other insects; and useless drones are expelled from the hive. At the end, Thora, old at 40 days, finally has a moment to contemplate her life to which she has given her all.

This is a gentle and sometimes obvious allegory, tempered by the underlying matter-of-fact tone which rescues it from becoming totally twee. Patience Brewster's whimsical drawings at the chapter heads literally add character to the text as she depicts the bees with human heads; the bee characters become more real to the reader. Thora is very likable, as are Belle, Mo, and Alfred, and even some of the more insufferable drones are endearing in their very stuffiness.

This is a physically attractive book, compact with a dull gold cover and a dreamy color illustration. Under the dust jacket of the hardcover edition, the boards are revealed to be textured like a honeycomb. This book is a pleasure to hold and read.

It is hard to say for whom this book is intended. Published by an imprint of Scholastic, it is one of those books that defies categorization into "children's" or "young adult." Rather, it is a book with an appeal that transcends age barriers, and the right reader will return to it again and again.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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