Posted by Lori Dunlap
“Most of our experience, our knowledge and our thinking is organized as stories.”
From time to time I’m asked to provide a review for a new book, and I almost always say “yes”! I love reading new material and helping to support other writers. Usually the books are written for parents, but recently I was asked to review this one, “Bees on the Roof”, aimed at students in the middle grades. Here’s what I thought of it…
Learning through stories is different than learning by memorizing facts or individual ideas. Stories provide a context for information and, if well-written, create an emotional connection as well, helping our brains understand and retain specific facts and ideas much more easily. This is what Robbie Shell has done with her new book “Bees on the Roof”—she has created a compelling story that also does a wonderful job of educating us about an important environmental issue: our diminishing number of honeybees.
Written for an upper-level elementary school and middle school audience, the story centers on a group of four friends who attend a science-focused junior high school in New York City. The main character, a seventh-grade student named Sam, is new to the city, having recently moved there with his dad who has been hired as a pastry chef at one of the city’s nicest restaurants. When he learns that all students at his school are required to form teams and design a science fair project, it doesn’t take long for Sam and his friends to land on the topic of honeybees. As the story moves along and the main characters begin developing questions and conducting research, the reader learns right beside them about bee colonies and how they produce honey, along with the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder and its potentially-catastrophic consequences. Because of the way the information is presented, woven into the story of these four kids as they confront common family and social challenges over a series of months, it’s unlikely that younger readers will experience a sense of information overload and, in fact, will truly enjoy learning about the important role honeybees play in all of our lives.
Also addressed in this book are the themes of teamwork and bullying, which are relevant with readers of this age group. However, from my perspective as the mother of a seventh grader, I found some of the bullying scenes to be a bit rougher than they needed to be, including one incident where a boy suffered broken ribs and another where a girl was forced into a closet with an older boy – nothing terrible happened, but it was still an unsettling scene. I also found some of the dialogue amongst the main characters to be a bit stilted and a somewhat mature at times for kids of this age, but the story was interesting enough to pull me through these sections.
Overall, the storytelling elements of “Bees on the Roof” are strong, with solid character development of the kids, an engaging plot, and a good balance of scientific information and story-related action. The approach of teaching through story makes it likely that young readers will remember a lot of what they learn about bees and our environment after reading this book, and I look forward to reading future books from this author.