A Hive for the Honeybee

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
A Hive for the Honeybee Book Poster Image
Insect allegory might be too slow for most kids.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages
Violence

A war with wasps, a mouse is killed, skinned and its bones are entombed in wax.

Sex

Desire and lovers are referred to, the queen serially mates with many drones, who then die.

Language

Few and mild.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The drones frequently get drunk on honey.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this story is intended to provoke discussion about society, sex roles, social classes, art, religion, government, and more. But whether it actually will provoke those discussions depends on whether your kid is one of the few who will finish it voluntarily. The queen bee mates with many partners, and a mouse is violently killed in battle.

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What's the story?

In the hive everyone has their roles: the queen lays eggs, the female workers tend the hive and make the honey, and the male drones lay around, get drunk, and think up government and religious rituals to pass the time while waiting for a chance to mate with the queen. But three bees, Thora, Albert, and Mo, don't seem to fit their roles. Thora, a worker, dreams of idleness and freedom. Albert, a drone, is a poet who thinks in metaphors, and Mo is a rebel who questions everything.

But life in the hive is not conducive to divergent thinking. Sensible workers don't have the time or patience for foolishness, and drones, filled with a sense of their own importance that the workers don't share, feel threatened. And when Mo tries to make peace with the hive's traditional enemies, the wasps, it's the workers, as usual, who have to clean up the mess.

Is it any good?

This won't work for most children: As a story, aside from its metaphorical merits, the first half is slow and dull, and by the time it picks up, most young readers will have put it aside. Even the illustrations of bees with stilt legs and human faces are oddly creepy. Experienced, patient young readers might continue to plow through, and in a discussion group, it might provoke some interesting conversations. But as well-written, well-intentioned, and clever as it is in its way, it's best for the most avid and intellectual young readers.

Writing allegories for children is a dicey business. Because many kids will not get the symbolism, at least not without adult guidance, the story has to be good enough to hold them on its own. Reviewing allegories for children can also be problematic: it's all too easy for adult reviewers to get excited about the deeper meanings and forget who the target audience is.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this story functions as a social allegory. What is the author trying to say about the way his fictional society functions? Who are the heroes of this story? Are there any villains? If you had to cast humans -- or even celebrities -- to play each of the animals featured in the book, who would you cast?

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