In this early chapter book, the challenges of living in today’s unstable war-torn times are presented in a story intended to instill tolerance and understanding among children. The story focuses on thirteen-year-old Ali, a boy whose parents and grandmother were killed by insurgents in Iraq. Under the care of his bee-keeping grandfather, Ali moved to Los Angeles, California, to start a new life.
The story begins as Ali plans his science project for school by asking his grandfather questions about the nature of bees. “You must make friends with the bees,” Mr Salam tells his grandson. “If you feel comfortable, they feel comfortable, and they do not sting you.” This theme of kindness breeding kindness, and aggression breeding aggression is repeated throughout the book in dialogue and behavior. The idea of teamwork also plays an important part in the story through colonies of bees, baseball teams, and students working together on the project.
At school, Ali’s idea of a science project about how honeybees work together to benefit all creatures is met with an enthusiastic response from his teacher. His classmate Lupe (a Hispanic girl whose father has been deported and whose undocumented mother also is in danger of deportation) wants to join his team. The class bully, Jenks (who has a romantic interest in Lupe) reluctantly joins their team, repeatedly taunting and threatening Ali with comments about his being a Taliban terrorist. Jenks lives with his embittered father, a paralyzed war veteran, now single after his wife left him.
Despite the way Jenks speaks and behaves, Ali remains calm, open-minded, and tolerant. He even gives the bully his treasured Mickey Mantle baseball card as a gesture of goodwill. Though stretching the reader’s suspension of disbelief a bit beyond its limits, Ali’s amazing insight and maturity for an orphaned boy in the midst of pubescent angst presents a worthy role model for others.
The author, who served six years in the U.S. Army, presents a clearly written and thoughtful story with both literal and figurative meanings for young readers to consider. Black-and-white sketches enhance the story by drawing attention to key scenes within each chapter. An important book for our times, ALI’S BEES would make a fine addition to school libraries and family bookshelves.
ALI’S BEES presents the inspiring story of three very different teenagers overcoming their personal tragedies and prejudices to work on a science project together.
~Carol Michaels for IndieReader.