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It’s the summer before eighth grade and Flor is stuck at home and working at her family’s mattress store, while her best friend goes off to band camp (probably to make new friends). It becomes even worse when she’s asked to compete in the local honey pageant. This means Flor has to spend the summer practicing her talent (recorder) and volunteering (helping a recluse bee-keeper) with Candice, her former friend who’s still bitter about losing the pageant crown to Flor when they were in second grade. And she can’t say no.
Then there’s the possibility that Flor and her family are leaving to move in with her mom’s family in New Jersey. And with how much her mom and dad have been fighting lately, is it possible that her dad may not join them? Flor can’t let that happen. She has a lot of work to do.
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Honeybees and Frenemies
Random Bee Fact #37:
Honey is the only food that contains all the substances necessary to sustain life. That’s why it’s called the “Food of the Gods.”
Once upon a time, this guy Newton said, “What goes up must come down.”
I can’t stand him.
I get it, gravity and all that. But there are other things that don’t have gravity—like my feelings and life in general. So why does everything have to follow a stupid rule some guy discovered when an apple hit him on the head?
Maybe that apple gave him brain damage, because let’s be honest, all he did was state the obvious. If he was really all that smart he would have been able to figure out how to keep things up and not let them come crashing down on his head. Or better, predict when things would fall in the first place.
No one ever warns you about stuff like that. It just comes out of nowhere, like bird poop right into your ice-cream cone. Sorry, that happened to me a few days ago and I’m still grossed out. That bird never shouted, “Bombs away!” and that apple never said to Newton, “Watch out!” In my case, what my best friend, Brooke, had just said was the apple . . . or the bird poop. I couldn’t quite figure out which one.
Brooke sat across from me in our corner booth at Aunt Bee’s Café. Between us was a yellow vase with a fake sunflower and even faker googly-eyed bee that stared too intensely at me. Brooke’s eyes were all wide and practically exploding with stars, in a less creepy way than the fake bee, but they still made me rub nervously at my arms.
I couldn’t get my mouth to work and say what I knew Brooke was waiting for me to say. Something along the lines of “Oh my gosh! I’m so happy for you! You’ve wanted to go to that band camp forever, and you got in!”
The green leather of the booth stuck to the backs of my legs, holding me in place even though I was desperate to move. Actually, desperate to do anything since I was still trying to convince myself that what she said was the complete opposite of what I heard. That she got it all wrong. That I misunderstood her.
It’s not that I wasn’t happy for her. I was. But this summer was supposed to be . . . well, different. Not the my-best-friend-is-gone-to-another-state-until-two-weeks-before-school-starts different. It wasn’t as if I had the entire summer planned out on a calendar like Mom made us do at home, but it was the first summer Brooke and I were allowed to get dropped off places by ourselves. The pool, the strip mall (with the craft store, the bookstore, and the lotion place all in a row), the movies, the amusement park. We’d both gotten memberships to King’s Island for Christmas and now Brooke’s grandma would get her pass instead!
The honey straw in my hand dripped onto one of my crocheted wristbands. I sucked on it quickly before the honey could harden.
Brooke rubbed her finger up and down her glass of honey lemonade, tracing a drip that striped the side of her glass. “Camp’s near the university by my aunt Pam’s. Mom wants to make a big trip of it. We’re leaving tomorrow,” she said.
“What about King’s Island? I can’t go with your grandma.” I yanked the wristband out of my mouth. I hated that that was the first thing I said. “That’s not what I meant to say. It’s really cool you got into camp. It’s just . . . It’ll be so boring without you here.”
Brooke nodded and tapped her fingers on her straw. She practiced the flute even without a flute in her hands. I was so used to it, I usually hardly noticed. What if she stopped doing that by the time I saw her again? Maybe one of those fancy music kids would tease her, or worse, she’d decide it was stupid and babyish.
These things could happen. It happened to Fran, my older sister, the summer before middle school. She went from my older sister who played Polly Pocket with me and spent hours outside on the trampoline, launching me until I could almost clear the top of the safety netting that lined it, to this total stranger who acted like I had a horrible disease and couldn’t be seen in public with her.
“Stop staring at me like that, Flor. You’re freaking me out.”
“Sorry. I just want to remember you like this.”
“Like what? It’s just the summer, not the rest of our lives.”
“I know,” I mumbled, sucking up the rest of the honey in my straw, but closed my eyes and tried to remember exactly what she looked like. I opened my eyes, glad to see that I got each of her freckles exactly right. Five tiny ones on her left cheek, seven on her right, and the bigger one that sat right at the bridge of her nose, and her curly but never frizzy dark hair. “Here.” I passed her the wristband that didn’t have a slobber stain. I’d been working on the pattern for a few weeks. My favorite to make were thicker than normal bracelets and stretched over your hand so I didn’t have to create any kind of clasp. I loved how they looked with the thin leather bracelets on my arm. “Wear this and I’ll send you another one once I make a few more.”
Brooke reached across the table for the wristband and admired it as she slipped it over her hand. I’d done a new crochet stitch pattern and used a silver yarn that had skinny threads of sparkly silver mixed in.
All of a sudden, the smell of vanilla perfume scratched my throat like I’d swallowed an itchy sweater. Candice Holloway leaned across our table. Uninvited.
“Did you hear?” she asked. She looked right at Brooke, then tossed her hair over her shoulder and barely let her eyes fall on me.
The way she stood, I could see right up her nose.
“Did we hear what?” Brooke asked, her eyes on me, giving her head a shake. Neither of us really cared what Candice had to say.
“The Honey Festival. They’re having a sort of ‘all-star’ year. You know, for the fiftieth anniversary.” Candice ran her hand under her hair and twisted it in front of her shoulder. “It’s not really fair, if you ask me. All those poor third graders don’t get a chance to participate this year. They have to wait and do a special pageant for the Apple Festival in the fall.” She cocked her head to the side and blinked at me. Not in that fluttery way she did when she laughed too loud at Ryan Carter’s jokes. It was definitely more of a fake innocent flutter.
Brooke put her crumpled-up napkin on top of her plate. “Let’s go, Flor.”
“Wait a minute, what do you mean ‘all-star’?” The backs of my legs got even stickier and more stuck than a few minutes before. Those four honey straws were doing weird things in my stomach.
Candice slapped the Western Star newspaper onto the table. The front page read: “A Hive of Activity as Honeydale, Ohio, Reveals All-Star Reunion for 50th Honey Festival.”
“The winners from the past ten years are competing for the crown.” Candice waved her hand in the air like she wasn’t the least bit freaked out. Why would she be? Our town lived for the Sauerkraut Fest in the spring, Honey Festival in the summer, the Apple Festival in fall, and the Christmas Parade in the winter. The Honey Festival was usually the only one that had any sort of pageant connected to it—if you could call a bunch of eight- and nine-year-olds waving from cars and doing cheesy dances a pageant.
I shook my head, mostly trying to get everything around me to stay still. Just like I was sure I’d misunderstood Brooke when she said she was going away all summer, I was sure the words in the newspaper must be wrong too.
“I heard the first Queen Bee is even coming back to town,” Candice said with a sniff.
“Well, good luck,” I managed to choke out.
“What do you mean?” Candice asked. “You have to be in it. Everyone who’s ever won has to.”
This could not be happening.
She looked at me like she still knew me and we hadn’t been enemies for the past three years. “You’re afraid. You don’t think you can win,” Candice said.
Of all people, she knew exactly why I hated the Honey Festival. She had ruined my life since third grade after I was crowned Little Miss Honeybee and she got first runner-up.
Brooke grabbed my arm. “Come on. Let’s go.”
I latched on to her arm, our wristbands lining up next to each other like one of those friendship charms that look broken when apart, but really they’re just each other’s missing pieces.
The moral of Newton’s story was: Watch out for falling apples. Or in my case, run for cover. It would’ve been nice to have some sort of warning that I’d be losing my best friend to band camp and stuck spending the summer avoiding my enemy.
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
Honeybees and Frenemies
By Kristi Wientge
About the Book
Twelve-year-old Flor is excitedly looking forward to a summer hanging out with her best friend at all the fun places: the pool, the movies, and, best of all, the amusement park. Then, like a dropped ice-cream cone, Flor’s plans are ruined when she finds out that Brooke will be gone all summer at band camp. Now, instead of getting her first taste of independence, Flor will be competing alongside her former best friend and current archenemy in the town’s Honey Festival pageant and undertaking community service for Mr. Henry, aka the Old Man on the Hill. Rumor has it that he “keeps Girl Scouts . . . in the freezer next to the boxes of their very own cookies.” To make matters worse, the family’s mattress business is not doing well, and Flor’s parents are fighting over whether it’s time to sell the business and move. Can honeybees help win a pageant? Can enemies become friends? Can Flor’s new ideas help the family stay in their home? Luckily, change can often nudge people in new directions and create new understandings.
1. How do the Random Bee Facts relate to each chapter? Consider the fact for chapter three, which states, “Worker Bees don’t get a say in anything. The scouts boss them around and tell them what they can do and cannot do.” In this chapter, Flor has just come in from wearing the mattress costume that her father had her wear to advertise the store. Her mother tells her to take off the costume and dust the book shelves, and then to make tea. How does Flor’s situation remind you of the bees? Can you relate to Flor or the bees in this chapter? What happens in chapter seven that relates to the bee fact about scouts voting on where the hive will live?
2. Define the term frenemies. Do you think it’s possible for someone to be a friend one day and an enemy the next? Why do you think that can make for a challenging relationship? Besides Candice, what other characters might Flor count as frenemies? Do you think family members can be frenemies? What about bees? What can you do to become less of a frenemy and more of a friend? Explain your answers.
3. A dominant female leader in a social clique is sometimes referred to as a queen bee. After reading about honeybees in this novel, why do you think this term is used to describe a person? What traits do you associate with a queen bee? Do you notice these behaviors in any of the characters in this book? If so, how do other characters react to them?
4. Flor says that when she and Candice were in third grade, “Candice joined in when a few of the other girls whispered when I walked by at school. . . . She made fun of me in that quiet way, smiling without laughing at the jokes and listening to the teasing without saying anything.” What does Flor mean by “in that quiet way”? Do you think Candice’s actions are a form of bullying? What do you think you should do if you see someone being bullied? How can you help create a welcoming environment in your classroom or community?
5. Flor’s family runs a small business that sells mattresses. What kinds of responsibilities does her family expect of her? What kinds of chores is she required to perform? How does Flor react to these jobs and expectations? What do you think Flor is learning from the experience? Do you have similar responsibilities in your family? How do these responsibilities make you feel?
6. Besides helping her family, Flor also has to do community service for the Honey Festival. She works at Mr. Henry’s place and at the food pantry. What tasks do she and Candice perform? Describe the girls’ attitudes toward the work. What do you think you would take from the experience? What are other ways to give back to your community?
7. Mr. Henry and Candice provide a lot of information about bees. Mr. Henry talks about how the smoke calms the bees, and Candice tells Flor how to tell if a hive is sick. Discuss information you learned about honeybees. What facts surprised you? What most interested you? Do you feel differently about bees after reading the novel? If so, how have your feelings changed?
8. Flor knows that she tends to be impatient. She explains how the recorder is easier than other instruments and that crochet is less precise than knitting. Using examples from the book, identify other elements of Flor’s personality. How would you describe her to a friend? What qualities do you share with Flor?
9. One of the themes in the novel is competition. What characteristics or feelings do you associate with competition? How do you think competition is perceived in your school or community? How is competition presented in the novel? Who is competing against who, and what do they learn about themselves? Why do you think Flor decides to compete in the pageant?
10. Flor’s father is always talking about sales, telling Flor that “sales is in her blood.” What kinds of tactics does Mr. Valandingham use to sell mattresses? What does Flor do to learn more about sales? What strategies does she try? Have you ever taken part in a bake sale or lemonade stand? How was it set up? What strategies worked best?
11. Flor often doesn’t think her mom, Mina, knows her very well. She wants Flor to be involved in the Honey Festival pageant, even though Flor doesn’t want to participate. Name other times when Flor feels that her mother doesn’t understand her. Why do you think Flor feels this way? How could she and her mother better communicate their feelings?
12. Why do you think Flor’s mom decides the family should move? Do you think she has her family’s best interests at heart? Explain your answers. Have you ever moved away, or had a friend or family member leave? What do you think is the most challenging thing of moving away or having someone else move away?
13. Flor decides she’s going to wear the bee beard while Candice gives a presentation on honeybees. What does Flor do to prepare for her part? How do you prepare to do your best, whether it’s for school, an activity, or other hobbies?
14. Flor says, “I rolled down the window, hoping that when I did, the weirdness between Mom and Dad would have somewhere to escape instead of squishing all of us against the dark blue seats and farther away from each other.” Name other scenes that show Flor’s anxiety about her parents’ relationship. How do Flor’s parents treat each other? How do you feel when your family or friends are not getting along? How do you respond to the “weirdness,” as Flor calls it? What advice do you have for Flor as she goes through this?
15. The way people describe us may not be the same way that we see ourselves. Flor says that the way people describe her makes her feel “like a specialty on display at the chocolate factory.” Candice tells Flor that she only won the Honey Festival pageant in third grade because she was “mixed.” Why do you think Candice made this comment? Think about how you treat others, and how they treat you. Has someone described you in a way that you don’t identify with?
16. What do you think of Fran’s cooking? Why do you think Fran puts so much energy into her work at the food pantry? What does Fran’s cooking tell you about her character? Do you have something you’re equally as passionate about? Describe your passion.
17. Explain how Flor and Candice mend their friendship. What does each girl learn about the other? Have you ever been in a friendship breakup? Why did your relationship with that person change, and how did you leave things? How would you go about repairing a relationship in your life?
18. Mr. Henry is a complicated character. When we first meet him, he is a solitary, grumpy, and even scary man who appears to be a wealthy hermit. As the girls start to work in his garden and eventually with his bees, they change their opinions of him until Flor discovers something else about him. Why does Flor turn against him? Do you believe Flor’s sister’s analysis that Flor is being selfish? What makes Flor rethink her opinion? After finishing the book, how do you feel about Mr. Henry?
1. Plan a dinner menu that you think Fran might use, and determine a reason for making that meal. Is it for a celebration, an apology, a way to cheer up someone who’s down? What ingredients will you need, and how will you prepare the food? Is there anything you’d add or change to the recipe? Imagine how family or friends might react to the meal, and then write an essay about how food brings people together and generates more than just nourishment. What might you make as an apology to someone you’ve hurt? What might you make for a celebration? What might you make to show someone you care about them?
2. Write a letter to either a real or imaginary frenemy. Describe your relationship while you were friends, and after? What do you miss about them? Write about what needs to change for this person to become a true friend again. Write about how you can take responsibility for your actions and how you plan to improve. Afterward, reflect on what it was like to write the letter. Is it easy for you to be honest? Does thinking back on past incidents or feelings change how you feel about them now? What do you hope will come from this exchange?
3. Organize a class talent show. What planning and logistics are involved? What kind of talent would you choose to perform? How would you invite people to attend? What did you learn from your experience? Include challenges as well as successes. What improvements would you make for next time?
4. Illustrate some of your favorite Random Bee Facts. These can be hand drawings, clip-art from websites, or even 3-D sculptures. They can take the form of a comic strip, cartoons, or realistic imagery. Be sure to label your drawings with the facts.
5. Write a short story about Flor moving back to Honeydale one year later. Has anything in the town changed? Describe what happens when Flor and Candice see each other again. Describe Flor and Brooke’s reunion. Have Brooke and Candice changed? Describe Flor and her reactions to Honeydale.
6. Watch a video to learn more about beekeepers and bee beards. Here is one that is both funny and informative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU1eoXYN2Rc. How might you educate people on the importance of bees in your school or community? How can you help spread awareness?
7. Make a list of any remaining questions you have about honeybees. Being careful to use reliable resources, use the Internet or your school library to find the answers to your questions. Ask your friends and family members these questions, and see how much they know about honey and honeybees.
8. There are many large numbers associated with honeybees, taken from the novel’s Random Bee Facts:
It takes 500 to 1,100 bee stings to be fatal.
15,000,000,000 dollars’ worth of fruits, nuts, and vegetables are pollinated by bees annually.
Bees can carry 122 times their weight—while flying.
A queen bee can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day!
Collect more numerical bee facts from books in your school library or on the Internet. Visuals can aid in understanding enormous numbers; use PowerPoint or another program that allows you to create charts, or draw them by hand. Think about how best to depict the number 500: What kind of scale should you use? How will you illustrate one billion? How can you show what it means to “times” something, such as “122 times their weight”?
9. Be an architectural engineer, and draw a diagram of a man-made beehive. Research this by looking at videos and drawings, or perhaps come up with your own design keeping in mind what bees need to survive. What colors would you paint your beehive? Where would you place it?
10. Make a stop-motion video of someone growing a bee beard. You can use Claymation and/or drawings. Decide whether to include background music or sound effects: would you do a voiceover to explain the procedure, or create a silent movie? Think about the tone, and whether you’d like the video to be serious, humorous, instructional, or a combination. What would you want people to learn from the video? Alternatively, you could write out a script and draw film panels to plan a movie.
Guide written by Shari Conradson, an English, drama, and history teacher in California.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.