CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 11 . . . .February 4, 2005
Winners make sacrifices of time and, often, money to achieve their goals. Sometimes the sacrifices include peace of mind, and friendships.
Kate is determined to win the grade two spelling bee. Her best friend and fellow contestant, Jake, encourages her to participate in the contest and is willing to practice the 150 spelling works with her. A combination of Jake's chronic lateness and stress causes Kate to lose her temper one evening when they are practising spelling.
Over the next couple of days, Jake ignores Kate and plays with Douglas. It appears that the friendship has ended until Jake defends Kate against Violet, the class bully. With a renewed friendship, Kate and Jake practice their spelling words together. When the day of the spelling bee arrives, the ten contestants must perform in front of an audience consisting of teachers, principals, the librarian, and parents and other family members.
Slowly the spelling bee contestants are eliminated, and Jake and Kate are left to compete against each other. Kate wins the contest, and Jake comes in second. Kate wins two tickets to Mel's Marvellous Monkey Show and offers to take Jake with her. Together, they take a final bow.
Wishinsky's book, A Bee in Your Ear, asks children to consider the price of winning and competition. Kate determination to win the contest affects her health and her friendships. Part of Kate's frustration is caused by Jake's inconsiderate habit of being late. Caregivers, parents, teachers, and librarians might use this book as a starting point to discuss how to identify and deal with stress. Family organization would have helped Jake arrive on time for school and the spelling practices. Clear, tactful communication skills would have helped Kate express her fears and frustrations associated with the contest. Jake also lacked the communication skills needed to approach Kate about how he felt about her behaviour.
Bullying by students and adults is another theme of the story. Violet intimidates Kate by bragging about her spelling ability and singing and hissing in Kate's ear during music class. Jake questions Violet about her behaviour, but the reader learns that Violet lives under parental pressure or "bullying" to succeed, and she even tries cheating to win. When Violet is eliminated from the competition, her father seems embarrassed and leaves the room rather than staying to praise her efforts.
Parents and children could discuss expectations and qualities of a successful person, such as honesty, integrity, hard work, and doing your best rather than "being the best."
As well as moral lessons, young readers are creatively exposed to examples of homonyms, silent letters, and mnemonic devices such as making sentences from letters. Teachers and parents might discuss mnemonics as a way for students to manage school related stress.
Louise-Andrée Laliberté's pencil sketches add depth and realism to the characters' emotions and personalities and the setting. Violet's face feigns innocence as she sings in Kate's ear. Jake's curly and unruly hair suites his character's description and age.
Wishinksy and Laliberté's work provides young children with the opportunity to experience their school and family lives from the distance of literature. Children, parents, and other influential adults may use this book as a springboard to reflect on their relationships and behaviours. Stress management is necessary at all ages. The younger one learns it, the easier life will be.
Located in Brandon, MB, Denise Weir is with the Province of Manitoba's Public Library Services Branch.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.