One of my greatest parenting regrets happened in June 2012 when I freaked out upon seeing several bees near my daughter’s play set. I must’ve shrieked and yelled “Bees!” before scooping her up and running into the house. We were both okay, but I believe it was my huge reaction (to not wanting either of us to be stung!) that led to her fear of anything that buzzes when it flies. Despite me regulating my future reactions to bees (I’ve committed myself to being calmer, standing still, and not panicking since then.) and reading her several nonfiction books on the merits of bees, my daughter is still fearful of them.
Enter Kaia and the Bees — written by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Angela Dominguez — which will be on-sale tomorrow. It’s a book about a brave-type of girl named Kaia who isn’t afraid of anything, except bees! Kaia’s dad understands the importance of bees and keeps bees on the rooftop of their apartment building. But Kaia got stung once and became scared of them. (I can relate. I’ve been stung twice, which is why I had the above-mentioned episode back in 2012!) Through the 40 page book, Kaia takes small steps to overcome her fear of bees and comes to realize bees are not looking to harm her. As a result, Kaia and the Bees is a highly-relatable book for anyone who has overcome or is working to overcome a fear. It helps readers understand that they need to give themselves time and compassion if they are going to be brave in the face of something that scares them.
Clearly, this is a great book to read with students as springtime blooms — and bees come out — here in North America. At this point in the year, you’re probably long past teaching personal narrative. However, for students who are writing realistic fiction or engaging in independent narrative writing projects, there are a variety of craft moves you could teach students to make with Kaia and the Bees:
- Compound Adjectives: Boelts joins two or more words together to form a compound adjective in a few places in the text. She does this as a way of making the text more descriptive than just using a single modifier.
- Em Dashes: Boelts uses these longer dashes to emphasize, interrupt, or change thought in the middle of sentences. On a couple of occasions, she uses it to introduce extra material to a sentence. Therefore, you can teach students how to use em dashes in a couple different ways using the same mentor text.
- Font Treatment: There are a few places in the text where words (e.g., brave, buzzing, flying, nonstop, zipping) are emphasized using a bigger font size. There are also places where the font size is increased and capital letters are used for emphasis (e.g., A BEE STINGS MY FINGER!; BEES; RIGHT. ON. MY. ARM.; SUPER). Finally, there are places where several lines have increasing font sizes to show emphasis across sentences (e.g., Bees. Bees. So many bees!) All of these different kinds of font treatment draw the reader in so as to emphasize a part of the text.
- Dialogue: There are spoken words between characters throughout the text. Most of the dialogue is between Kaia and her father who is the beekeeper of the family. There’s also dialogue that happens among Kaia and her neighbors, Hector and Marcella, who call her out on her fear of bees when one lands on her arm.
- Movement Through Time and Place: The entire story takes place in and around Kaia’s apartment building. So while the place doesn’t change much, there are different scenes, which require the use of key words and transitional phrases so that readers are clear how Kaia is flowing through the story. The story begins inside of Kaia’s apartment. Next, it transitions to the stoop in front of her apartment. From there, readers go back inside, then up to the roof of the apartment building. After being stung, Kaia goes back inside and some time passes. Next, Kaia is in the kitchen harvesting honey with her parents. The story ends, soon thereafter, with Kaia and her dad walking down her street at sunset on the same day of the honey harvest.
- Setting Details: Though vivid descriptions, Boelts helps readers unfamiliar with beekeeping understand what hive boxes look like, what kind of equipment is required to safely work with bees, etc. While there is some technical language on the beekeeping pages of the book, the illustrations help younger readers get an understanding those terms by showing what’s being described in the text.
- Show, Not Tell: Boelts’ picture books serve consistently of examples of how to show, rather than tell, readers what’s happening. Boelts uses action, internal thinking, dialogue, and figurative language to help readers know what is happening in the text. For example, in the beginning of the book, Kaia says she feels twisty inside when she brags to her neighbors that she’s like a beekeeper, it shows readers that she’s being untruthful. The word twisty appears at the end of the book when Kaia declares that “nothing inside me is twisty” because she’s discovered how brave she is. As a reader, I can feel relieved since Kaia has become braver over the course of the text. Having the same word — twisty — appear at the beginning and the end of the book helps a reader to understand how Kaia felt at different points in the story.
- Turning Point: There’s a defining moment in this story where something of great significance happens to Kaia. As a result, she changes in a significant way that readers do not expect at the beginning of the story.
While I could keep listing additional craft moves you could teach (e.g., meet the characters lead, vivid verbs) students to do better by using Kaia and the Bees as a mentor text, I’m certain you will find those things upon multiple readings of the the book.
As I stated in Craft Moves, “There’s never enough time when you’re a classroom teacher. In a week filled with an end-of-unit celebration, a field trip, or a special guest visit, you may feel pressured to sacrifice your shared read-aloud time. Instead, try to find some mentor books that can do double or triple duty in your lessons. It helps to find books you can revisit during reading and writing workshop mini-lessons or content-area periods” (2016, 18).
Kaia and the Bees is one of those books that will transition beautifully from read aloud to a writing workshop mentor text. You can use it for explanation with example mini-lessons, in 1:1 conferences, and in small group strategy lessons. It’s a versatile text that is sure to become a class favorite!
Take a look at a few page spreads from the book:
This giveaway is for a copy of Kaia and the Bees. Many thanks to Candlewick Press for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of Kaia and the Bees, please leave a comment about this post by Monday, March 16th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, March 19th. You must have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address to enter the giveaway. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Candlewick will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – KAIA AND THE BEES. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. I used a random number generator and Zelrae’s commenter number was selected so they will receive a copy of Kaia and the Bees.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).