Back in March, sj tweeted to me about this new informal club that Becoming Cliché was starting: the From the Bowels of Obscurity Children’s Book Club [pause while we wait for our inner 12-year-olds to stop giggling at “bowels.” Hee!]
Edit: Here is the club’s first official meeting (post).
Y’all may remember some of my previous posts on nostalgic Juv/YA books (see the “nostalgia” icon in the sidebar) – some of which are, in fact, pretty obscure, like Jane Little’s Spook and Sylvia Peck’s Seal Child. So this club is right up my memory lane!
Hey, it has the word “postcard” in it, so why not? Anyhoo, their first prompt (
yes, I do realize how close I’m cutting it, what with tomorrow being the final Friday of May, when the second prompt is supposed to be announced… Oh wait that’s next Friday. Woo hoo, I’m in the clear!) is: “take a photo of your local library, or even better YOU at your local library, and make a post about it on your own blog.”
So! I’ve decided to combine both themes in one post.
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I’m actually going to highlight two local libraries, because they’ve both had a significant role in my reading life.
The Burlington Public Library.
This was pretty much the first place I wanted to visit when my family moved to the area ~20 years ago, and to my delight, it had ALL THE SWEET VALLEY KIDS BOOKS. Any time we had to go grocery shopping or do other errands in town, my inevitable question would be “Can we stop at the library?”
Years later, I got my first job at the BPL as a Student Page (I was in high school). Basically, I re-scanned and re-shelved books and other library materials.
It was also sometime during high school that I discovered this book:
I know. I know, guys. I hate bees. HAAAAATE. THEM. Ok, I’m being dramatic, but in all seriousness, long before I became allergic, the sight of a bee or wasp would put me in panicked flight mode.
These days I’m a leeettle calmer; my reaction to a bee in the house is usually to shout “Hoooooly snap” while backing away slowly and finding someone to please kill it for me thank you I’ll be in the next room with the door closed tell me when it’s over bye.
And yet, I love this book. Maybe it’s because Patience Brewster’s illustrations make the characters look more like faeries than bees – creatures with human faces, bees’ bodies, and long spindly legs. It’s something between whimsical and surreal, and I love it. Oh, and since these illustrations appear at the start of each chapter, she often incorporates the chapter number into whatever’s happening in the drawing. For instance, we see a worker bee fanning away the number 2 as she cools the honeycombs. Or, as sunlight shines on one of the drones, the number 19 stretches shadow-like on the ground beneath him.
The story follows the life cycle of a generation of bees who stay behind when their old Queen leaves to start a new hive. We focus particularly on four characters: gentle, dreamy Thora; practical, no-nonsense Belle; idealistic poet Alfred; and rebel/activist Mo.
The story is partly an allegory for government incompetence/irrelevance, religious fanaticism, and gender relations. It’s humorous and satirical, but sometimes melancholy – the copyright page lists “fatalism” as one of the subjects.
In terms of the nitty-gritty aspects of bee life (i.e. the way their bodies work, from storing nectar, to secreting wax, to mating and giving birth*), Lally is matter-of-fact, using plain technical terms like “progenitive organs” and “fecundation.” She doesn’t skip the harsh aspects, either – the disposal of dead bees, for instance – but her portrayals are never gratuitous or vulgar.
The one thing I didn’t like was the portrayal of Alfred as “a fat, bumbling drone”  who blunders around, gorges himself drunk on honey, and generally seems like “an idiot, [though] a nice idiot.”  It’s an unfortunate cliché in the media for larger people to be portrayed as silly and/or stupid. At best, Lally’s portrayal of Alfred is lazy characterization, falling back on an overused trope.
Overall, though, A Hive for the Honeybee is just lovely. It’s light-hearted and funny, but also somber and haunting. It’s an allegory, but one that will leave you wondering: what is the message? Are we meant to sympathize with those who want to challenge tradition and promote individual desires, or with those who want to stick with the-way-things-are-done? In my view, there’s no simple answer.
. . . . .
* if you’re the Queen, of course.
P.S. The book title comes from W. B. Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” –
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade. …
. . . . .
Some info on Soinbhe Lally
In my head, I’d always pronounced her first name “Soyn-bay,” but the Scholastic website says it’s actually “Son-veh.”
Some more info I found:
- a page in this tourism brochure from Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, which talks about Lally’s father, Maurice Cassidy. The page includes a picture of Cassidy’s wife and two adult children – Maurice and Soinbhe.
- an archived website written by Lally herself, about her father and his work developing the Erne Bus Service in Fermanagh County (be aware, you might get pop-up ads on the home page of this site).
- and an article (pgs 77-90) in the 2003-2004 volume of the Children’s Folklore Review, which mentions Lally as one of a growing number of Irish and Irish-American children’s writers seeking to redefine “Irishness” in more positive/less stereotypical terms than they had grown up reading – particularly through their historical novels about the Great Famine.
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