Monday, April 21, 2014


World War II home front and magical realism seem like an unlikely pairing, but they work together beautifully in Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco.

 While World War II is waging overseas, eleven-year-old Bee is fighting a war of her own. Orphaned at a young age, Bee works at the hot dog stand of a traveling carnival. She lives in the back of a hauling truck with Pauline, a young woman who works at the carnival and is the only person looking out for Bee. But, what makes Bee stand out is the “diamond” on her cheek. Born with a large birthmark covering one side of her face, Bee tries her best to be happy despite the cruel stares and taunts she endures on a daily basis. But, at least she has Pauline, who Bee knows will always protect her from the world. There is also the strange, yet comforting presence of the lady in the orange flappy hat, who it seems only Bee can see and who only shows up on days that have been particularly difficult.

When Pauline is sent to work for another carnival, Bee is left truly alone and must face the harsh realities of the world.  Accompanied by her dog, Peabody, and the baby pig she smuggles out of the carnival, Bee digs deep within herself to summon strength and courage she didn’t know she possessed. Her journey of self-discovery and renewal is inspiring as Bee carves out a new life for herself and learns that she is not the only one who has faced hardship in their life.

Beholding Bee is an unusual and unexpected story. The cover art looks like a contemporary novel, but after a few chapters it’s clear that this is historical fiction that reads like a fairy tale. The stark realities of this country during the 1940s are apparent; polio, rationing, families broken apart by the war, and the treatment of children with special needs are all woven into the story. But, like any good fairy tale, there are bright points and moments of whimsy. Throughout it all, the character of Bee sparkles as she learns who she is and what she is capable of.

Recommended for 4th grade and up.

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