How to Bee by Bren MacDibble

Author: Bren MacDibble
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Format: Paperback
Genre: YA | Children’s Fiction | Science Fiction


Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches, sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened and Foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.’

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand. All Peony really wants is to be a bee. Life on the farm is a scrabble, but there is enough to eat and a place to sleep, and there is love. Then Peony’s mother arrives to take her away from everything she has ever known, and all Peony’s grit and quick thinking might not be enough to keep her safe.


This multiple award-winning book for children aged between 8-12, and adults with an adventurous spirit, is an absolute delight to read. And, I image, even better read by its intended audience who I see it appealing to on so many levels. From the spirit of adventure, to its tough, feisty character of Peony, to the world in which she lives in. A world not too distant from the here and now. A world we are almost on the brink of becoming, where starvation is the norm, and children pollinate fruit trees (those that are still left) by hand.

I fell in love with Peony from the very first page. Here is a young 10 year old wishing to be something we can only begin to imagine: a bee. A light-footed kid, with a delicate touch, who can hop from branch to branch, and tree to tree, carefully dusting flowers with precious pollen. All because pollinators, and bees especially, are all but extinct. This is a job Peony was born to do, and a job she longs for. But the road to becoming a bee isn’t all that easy when up against others, like her, living on the farm. Kids who, when they turn 11, who have the right skill set, have the chance to move from being Pests, doing bug killing grunt work, to becoming a bee. And, more importantly, the chance to wear the coveted yellow vest.

Bren MacDibble has brought together a well-balanced cast of characters, that walk us through what life is like for those living and working on the farm. From Gramps looking after Peony and her sister, the awkward but still loveable Magnolia. To Peony’s best friend, Applejoy and his his family. And the hardships they all endure. It’s at times lighthearted, funny, and at times, heartbreaking and visceral. As when Applejoy is almost crushed with grief over the loss of his mother.

MacDibble deals with the subject of loss, grief, and pain with such a careful, light touch, you feel all of Applejoy’s heartbreak, as if your own. But she never overwhelms the reader, taking into consideration the age group How To Bee is aimed at.

The author clearly knows her subject and really brings the story to life, as seen through Peony’s eyes. Her stoic innocence is forceful, and she needs it. Because when her mother turns up to take Peony away from the only life she’s known, and the only life she wants, Peony must dig deep, and find a way to find her way back from the alien landscape of the city and a life she knows nothing about.

Undaunted, Peony not only survives, but manages to make a friend in Esmeralda, daughter to the Pasquales, who own the house she now finds herself working in. What follows is a remarkable story of friendship, in which Peony helps Ez get over her fears of the outside world, but in which the two hatch a plot to get Peony back to her beloved farm, Grams, Applejoy, and the world in which she belongs.

The characters are beautifully written, and the dialogue authentic to the setting and place, in this tale where one girl’s courage and determination changes everyone around her. How To Bee is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it. As will the plucky Peony.

The message of How To Bee is one of empathy, kindness, and selflessness, and above all, hope.

I highly recommend this for readers of all ages.

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