Each month, we ask distinguished authors or illustrators to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Maribeth and the Bees
By Maribeth Boelts
It’s the rare child (or adult!) who doesn’t have some level of fear when it comes to bees. And although I enthusiastically joined my husband and son when they decided to take up beekeeping and have a myriad of happy memories, I never completely overcame my “healthy respect” for insects that sting.
Kaia and the Bees (Candlewick 2020) was written to explore this common fear, and counterbalance that trepidation with a peek into the dazzling world of honeybees. Beekeeping is, after all, a “yes, but” endeavor: Yes, it is a gift to give witness to the miracles hidden inside a working beehive, but that gift may come with a few stings along the way!
With Angela Dominguez’s beautiful and informative illustrations (beekeeping background, too!), my hope is that this storyline strengthens a young reader’s bravery muscle, and helps them develop curiosity about honeybees, and empathy for the many challenges honeybees endure.
In Kaia’s case, even though she was terrified of getting stung, I decided to create a reality where she experiences a sting. Yes, I could have protected her when she faced the bees and had everything work out swimmingly. But then her growing confidence would be based on a shaky foundation of not getting stung. I knew I wanted her to develop sturdier bones than that to carry her forward. Tackling what frightens us and discovering things are not as scary as they seemed is one thing; finding out that our worst-case scenario is indeed at hand is another. That is when courage asks something deeper of us.
But beyond honeybees, a question intrigued me as I wrote this story… what if the thing we worry most about happening, actually does happen? As adults, we often try to quell children’s (and our own) worries by pairing them up against the odds of the fear becoming a reality. For example, we check the forecast and tell the storm-phobic child that the little grey cloud they’re concerned about is just that and is not going to become a tornado that will scoop and spin a house, Oz-style.
I recently lost my hero of a husband to a battle with brain cancer, and my family and I are experiencing our personal worst-case scenarios as we grieve and miss him so. I search for examples of courage, and I’m finding them in those who have also experienced great loss but are choosing to still carve out rich and meaningful lives. It’s within these examples of grief, grit, and courage where I have begun to draw fragile new breaths of hope and strength.
We all need people just ahead of us on the journey, particularly when we are afraid. Our children need the same. In Kaia and the Bees our heroine faces her fear, has that same fear turn around and sting her, and still she decides she’ll visit the bees again—not to prove anything; not to please anyone; but because she now knows that the courage that allowed her to hold a frame with “a thousand bees and maybe more” in her two trembling hands still blazes within her—and is even stronger from having been tested.
It’s amazing what one can learn from honeybees, isn’t it?
Hear Maribeth Boelts pronounce her name and share its history.
Discover more resources for books written by Maribeth Boelts.
Text and images are courtesy of Maribeth Boelts and may not be used without her expressed written consent.