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Children's Book Review
- Published on Amazon.com
"The Magic School Bus: Inside a Beehive" represents a slight departure for author, Joanna Cole, and illustrator, Bruce Degen. Written in 1996, this book could easily have been all about our friends, the insects. Because, as student Dorothy Ann explains in the opening pages, "There are more insect species on earth than all other animals put together!" Indeed, you need look no farther than your own backyard (or a few dusty corners of your home) to find bugs of all shapes and sizes crawling around, buzzing about, and foraging for food.
However, Cole and Degen chose to shine their respective spotlight on one insect in particular. Not that this is a bad thing. In fact, it's the exact opposite. According to Florrie, another student of Ms. Frizzle, "There are more than 20,000 different kinds of bees." And the word "bee" itself conjures up all sorts of emotions in people. Some are deathly afraid of them; others have been stung and know the pain a sting induces; and then there are those who are allergic to these insects.
But is that all there is to the bee? Is it really the little stinging monster we think it is? Or is there something more to this delicate creature than we know? And this, readers, is where Cole, Degen, a band of students, and some teacher nicknamed the Friz, enter the picture. For they are going to set the record straight, once and for all, about what the nature of bees really entails.
Our latest adventure starts out with Ms. Frizzle and her students studying insects, such as ants and cockroaches and goliath beetles. She has also arranged a field trip to a local honeybee hive.
"The beekeeper is visiting his hives today," says the Friz. "We'll meet him there." And with that she sweeps out the door.
"Maybe this will be a normal field trip for a change," one student expresses to another.
With Ms. Frizzle, only the most adventurous teacher in the entire known universe, at the helm? Don't bet on it! However, as it turns out, she does have a normal field trip in store this time. She even brings along a picnic basket while she and the students wait for the beekeeper to arrive.
Then it happens. The moment at which this otherwise regular field trip takes a sharp turn into irregular. While attempting to open a jar of honey -- "Some light refreshments will pass the time while we wait," says the Friz -- she accidentally knocks her elbow against a strange lever. The bus shrinks faster than a student can say, "Great galloping gargoyles!" And, to no one's surprise, students and teacher are magically transformed into bees.
Readers and students alike learn all sorts of bee-utiful facts about these insects in Cole and Degen's latest entry into science for children. Did you know the average bee visits thousands of flowers every day? Or that, sometimes, an entire hive may "adopt" a lost bee if it is carrying a lot of food? How, exactly, does a bee, while gathering nectar for the hive, manage to pollinate all those flowers at the same time? What tasks are different bees assigned once inside the hive? Do they really communicate with one another by performing a bee dance? Readers will be amazed when they discover how many eggs the queen bee lays each day, and they'll be even more surprised when they see what happens when two queen bees are born at the same time inside the hive.
By focusing on just one insect in particular, Cole and Degen manage to "humanize" the bee. Meaning, through their research and attention to detail, they have made the bee less scary than it actually is. Do bees go around looking for people to sting? Of course not. As explained in the story, a sting is not particular conducive to the bee giving it or the person on the receiving end of it.
Besides the excellent writing and fabulous artwork (a staple of any collaboration between Cole and Degen), there are two other aspects of this story that work well for it. Borrowing a page out of Jan Brett's playbook ("The Hat" and "The Mitten"), Cole uses the "story within a story" technique to great effect here. While Ms. Frizzle and her students are buzzing around, we see snippets of why the beekeeper is late, as well as hints of danger to come for teacher, students and the bees! Anyone who's read the "Jesse Bear" series (also wonderfully illustrated by Degen) will instantly recognize the bear invading this story.
Not wanting to break with tradition, Cole and Degen explain, at the end of their latest offering, what was fact in the story and what was made up. They also provide a subtle -- or not so subtle -- hint of what lays in store for the Friz and her students for their next field trip. It will be a shock, no doubt; one readers will definitely get a charge out of!
As Ms. Frizzle herself would say, "Bee of good cheer, class. We're on our way!"