The Queen Bee and Me

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
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Relatable story about conformity has strong science content.

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

Educational Value

Meg is interested in science, and she's promoted to an advanced science class, much to the displeasure of her best friend, Beatrix, who wants her to do a dance elective with her. In her science class, Meg gets involved in a project about bees with the new girl, Hazel, who's a beekeeper. There are lots of great facts about bees, from their roles in the hive, to the reason why smoke is used when opening the hive, to their importance in our ecosystem. Meg and Hazel use their knowledge to change people's mind about bees. They give a memorable, multi-sensory classroom presentation about bees that shows what it's like inside of a beehive.

Positive Messages

When the world feels confusing, it helps to look at the pieces to see how they fit. Scientists tackle their fears by facing them -- they look problems in the eye, ask questions, and find answers. Sometimes imperfect is perfect. A best friend can be the key to an entire universe. Middle school is a moment in your life, and there is more to life than one moment. Figuring out who you are is hard, but it's worth the hard work. Friends should talk to each other when they have problems. The most important kind of loyalty is not to a friend, a town, or anything else -- it's to yourself. You can be strong. You can be everything you need. You can be your own queen.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though Meg is White and lives in a Southern town where people value conformity, she has friends and teachers from diverse backgrounds. Her homeroom teacher is a "brown-skinned" man who has one arm. Meg's favorite teacher is her science teacher, Ms. Dupart, who has "locs," implying that she may be African American, but it's not specified. Meg's friend Arshi is of Indian descent, and her friend Zoe's last name is Ramirez. Meg's mom always makes time to understand her, but has to learn that she needs to stand up for Meg when she goes against the grain. Meg's dad is available, gentle, and goofy, giving her great advice about learning who she is.

Violence & Scariness

Meg's dad talks about how his older brother, Meg's Uncle Joe, used to "pound" on him when they were growing up. He also says that Meg's grandfather used to hit Uncle Joe "pretty hard."

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in The Queen Bee and MeGillian McDunn (Caterpillar Summer) revisits North Carolina in a story about friendship, conformity ... and bees. Meg wants to study science, which her best friend, Beatrix, thinks is uncool. When a new girl named Hazel moves to town, Beatrix mocks her love of bees. But Meg is interested in the science behind the bees, even if she's terrified of the actual beehive (to the point of fainting). Meg's shocked when Beatrix crosses lines by being mean to Hazel. This behavior includes giving Hazel a tube of acne cream for her pimply skin in front of people at a party. She also makes a scene in the lunchroom, slamming a lunch tray and accusing Meg of having lied. Beatrix gets all of the seventh grade to make noises near Hazel, which makes her very upset and feel even more isolated. Lessons about finding the strength to stand up to bullies and to find your unique voice help balance out the mean behavior. The feeling of social conformity is pervasive in the small Southern town where the story is set, but there's diversity among characters.

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What's the story?

In The Queen Bee and Me, Meg is a seventh-grader living in a small town in North Carolina. She describes herself as having had anxiety since she was a kid, and she has even fainted a few times because of it. Her best friend, Beatrix, however, has enough confidence for the both of them. But Meg is feeling that her interests are starting to be eclipsed by Beatrix's, and she's getting lost in Beatrix's shadow. When Meg meets a new girl in town named Hazel on the evening of Beatrix's family's annual party for the town, she invites her to join them. She doesn't expect Beatrix to post mean-girl messages that make Hazel feel very unwelcome. Hazel doesn't dress like anybody at their school, and she's not about to apologize for her interest in bees. Meg's upset by about how Beatrix is behaving, but she's too afraid of being dropped by her friend to say anything. When Beatrix finds out that Meg and Hazel are pairing up for a major science project about bees, she starts a secret campaign to turn the whole seventh grade against them. Meg has to learn that her first loyalty is not to her best friend, but to herself and her own interests and principles. Will she be able to face her fears and stand up for what's right?

Is it any good?

Approachable and nicely paced, this story of nonconformity adds lots of information about bees. THE QUEEN BEE AND ME doesn't shy away from integrating the scientific method, detailed descriptions of different kinds of bees, and their importance to human survival into the story. Written another way, it could feel like overkill to notice that a bossy character is named Beatrix. But this story is subtle enough to allow the reader to figure that out. 

Though the plot could have sprung into action with more intensity at the start, the lessons that the characters learn feel earned at the end. Some characters, like Meg's brother, and her peripheral friends, Arshi and Zoe, could have benefited from a little more detail. But the focus is really on Hazel, the odd kid with the weird sweaters and the bee obsession. Her refusal to conform shines in this story, and Meg is influenced by her strength. Kids will relate to the tricky social footwork that middle school requires. And they'll appreciate Meg's newly found courage and her willingness to do what's right, even if it means eating alone sometimes. But, as her dad says, middle school is a moment, and if you figure out who you are, you've done your job.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about peer pressure in The Queen Bee and Me. Beatrix uses the in-school social network to spread hurtful rumors. How could you see this playing out in social media? How do you react to mean posts or texts?

  • Moving to a new school is a challenge for lots of kids, which is why it's featured in a lot of movies and books. Which coping strategies have you learned from books or movies?

  • Beatrix's mom is critical of Beatrix, calling her a "hot mess" in front of her friends. Does hearing that help Meg understand Beatrix's mean behavior? Can you think of instances of positive parent-kid problem solving in shows that you like?

Book details

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For kids who love middle school stories and books about bullies

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