The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa




Long ago in the mountains of Ethiopia, the bees arrived in Lalibela, and people poured in from all around to procure their sweet honey. A young girl named Almaz vows one day her honey will be the best of all. When she shares her dream with the current beekeepers, they laugh her away and tell her it’s men’s work. Almaz is determined to prove them all wrong, but she can barely climb the trees to reach the hives. The men think she’s learned her lesson, but they don’t know Almaz. She’s steadfast in her pursuit of the honey. In this spirited text by Cristina Kessler, with stunning illustrations from Leonard Jenkins, perseverance is the key to achieving one’s dreams.

Book Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 1-3-Lalibela is a mountain town in Ethiopia, known for its production of fine honey. Kessler’s story features Almaz, a plucky girl who wishes to take on the traditionally male work of beekeeping. The men laugh when she can’t climb a tall tree to fetch down a woven hive, except for Father Haile Kirros, who encourages her. In a few months, she returns to the marketplace, just as she had sworn to do, with very fine honey. Jenkins follows the ups and downs of Almaz’s labor in deep-hued, mixed-media scenes spread richly across double pages. Focusing on the characters and their activities, the artist washes colors in broad layers for his background, sometimes adding chalky swirls resembling children’s sidewalk drawings. Text blocks on some pages are simply set against the scene in white or black print, but other times they’re set on irregular cream-colored shapes that almost appear to be speech balloons. Though the added elements are a bit cluttered, the art handsomely conveys the African setting. Kessler includes well-chosen details about the beekeeping project and a few words from the local Amharic and Tigringna languages. Easily understood in the text, they appear in a concluding glossary with an author’s note on the village and its legendary name. Almaz’s conclusion that “Life is sweet” is well earned, and readers will cheer her determination and good sense in realizing her dream.
-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Children’s Literature
The sweet, rich honey of Lalibela, in the Ethiopian mountains, is part of a local legend. Kessler makes a young girl the heroine of this tale of beekeeping. Almaz wants to keep bees to make “the best honey in all of Lalibela.” The men who traditionally keep bees tell her it is men’s work. When they challenge her to bring down a hive, she cannot. They laugh, but after three months they are surprised when she appears at the Saturday market with a comb filled with rich honey. When after eight Saturdays she does not arrive at the market, worried Father Haile Kirros goes to find her. Unfortunately, ants have ruined her hive. After much trial and error, Almaz figures out how to thwart the ants. “Life is sweet,” she notes, as she is welcomed back to the market as “the best beekeeper of Lalibela.” Jenkins uses acrylic, pastel, and spray paint to create double-page illustrations with shapes that suggest rather than stipulate Almaz’s almost exotic world. She and the villagers are recognizable but the scenes are dominated by areas of color that sweep across the pages, sometimes clearly, other times with scumbled textures, and still others with linear arabesques turning their passivity into mysterious action. The “Author’s Note” fills in the background of the legend and the story; a glossary includes Tigringna and Amharic words. 2006, Holiday House, Ages 4 to 8.

Kirkus Reviews
Almaz is a spunky young lady who wants to raise bees and make honey, work that is only done by men in her Ethiopian village of Lalibela. She is ridiculed by a group of male beekeepers, but encouraged to pursue her dream by a young Ethiopian Orthodox priest. When she finally invents a new type of beehive, her detractors realize that her honey is indeed the best in the village. Although the story begins in the past with the hints of a legend describing why the town, also famous for its stone churches, is known for bees and honey, this original tale is set in contemporary times. An author’s note provides some background. Jenkins’s intensely colored mixed-media illustrations, employing both abstract images and realistic faces, depict a traditional society with few hints of modernity. (Picture book. 6-8)