Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Angela Dominguez

Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts
illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Review Copy from Candlewick Press

Kaia and the Bees does something really wonderful - it manages to be a book that shows readers how to face your fears while also educating them about the importance of bees and the work that they do. And Boelts, who has been a beekeeper and written picture books that capture, with authenticity and clarity, the emotional lives of children, is perfectly positioned to create a book like this. Best of all, this story is not set on a farm or even in the country. It is set in a city, letting readers know that beekeeping can happen (almost) anywhere!

Kaia is brave, "hottest-hot-pepper brave" and "furry-spider-in-the-basement brave." There is only one thing that "SUPER scares" her - bees. Unfortunately for Kaia (but fortunately for bees and the rest of humanity) her father is a beekeeper! He has two hives on the roof of their apartment and he "reads bee books and talks about bees nonstop," telling Kaia, "The world needs bees, and that's why we're beekeepers." Except, Kaia is not a beekeeper, although she does share all the knowledge her father passes on to her with her friends and neighbors. When a bee lands on her arm and she screams and waves her arms in front of her friends, Kaia decides it's time to learn to overcome her fear of bees.

Here is where Boelts's gift with getting emotions on the page shines. Kaia narrates her experience, from trying to keep her hands still and not swat at the bees to the sweat that soaks her head under her beekeeper's helmet. Just as Kaia's interest in the bees eclipses her fears, she is stung, Boelts writing, "That bee was alive. It vibrated. And its stinger stuck in my skin!" I love how Boelts focuses on the immediacy of the moment, diffusing the fear and pain of the experience. And, while being stung puts an end to Kaia helping care for the bees, she agrees to help with the honey harvest. Working all day with her mom and dad, filling jars and mopping up the spills, Kaia is happy "laughing about the magic happening right in our kitchen," and loving the "smell of warm, sweet honey filling our apartment." When Kaia finds two bees on the windowsill where she is lining up the newly filled jars of honey, she reacts, grabbing a swatter and wrapping up in a protective towel. Pausing, she realizes, "maybe they don't want to sting me. Maybe they want a way out. That's all." Remembering what she learned from her father, Kaia tells herself, "bees are amazing and scary and mysterious. And we need them." Saying this, nothing inside her feels "twisty," because it has been replaced with a new feeling - the feeling of being brave.

A fantastic book that will encourage bravery in the face of fear and maybe even inspire future beekeepers!

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