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Ancient Greece, Vietnamese Buddhism, the tragedy of biodiversity collapse, and Texas students being failed by state science curriculums all helped inspire ‘The Bee Maker,’ my Young Adult novel.
A story can seize one and set one on a journey full of the unexpected. I was so gripped when I read about a mathematician–and beekeeper–who theorized that honey bees might be able to sense the world of quarks, those quirky elementary particles that combine to make protons and neutrons in atoms. She discovered that the now-famous “waggle” dance, the movements bees use to communicate the location and quality of nectar sources to their sisters in the hive, could be mapped using something called a “sixth-dimensional manifold” that is related to quarks.
As a math teacher as well as a volunteer naturalist with a deep interest in pollinators, I was captivated. I spent the next seven summers crafting “The Bee Maker.”
I didn’t set out to tell a time travel story about a near future impacted by climate change, but I did know early on that the main character was a math-loving thirteen-year-old girl and that endangered honey bees would be at the heart of the story.
In the mysterious ways that stories announce themselves, the character Melissa and the bees called themselves into being.
Decades earlier I had been an Ancient Greek major at UT Austin, but left studies in my junior year to volunteer with a Vietnamese community in France, led by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, to help bring peace and healing to war-ravaged Vietnam. I had been active in an antiwar group on campus, but felt a calling to commit to peace work in some deeper way. When I discovered Thich Nhat Hanh’s book about the Vietnam conflict, “Lotus in a Sea of Fire,” in a used bookstore a few blocks from campus, I experienced a profound sense of connection. I wrote to him and learned the community was looking for an English-language volunteer.
These streams of my life, Ancient Greece and Vietnamese Buddhism, emerged in unexpected ways in the writing of “The Bee Maker,” as did my love of running. (I coached Girls on the Run for several seasons.) And my love of the Texas Hill Country provided the right setting for Melissa’s adventure.
Central to the evolution of the novel was my daily interaction with students, young people growing up in a time of mounting climate disruption. I came to see how our educational system is failing to provide students with essential information about the world they are inheriting and resources for ways to respond.
In fact, when I began teaching, the very words “global warming” or “climate change” didn’t appear in any science curriculum. One rarely heard a school or city official even mention those terms. I began to see how “The Bee Maker” might help fill some of those gaps by providing a story inspired by wonder, curiosity, and hope, but also willing to confront hard issues.
By the time “The Bee Maker” was finished and published (BookBaby, 2019), my greatest hope was that teachers and young people might find literary pleasure in the book but also a jumping-off point to discuss and respond to issues of human-driven climate change and biodiversity loss, two of the dominant forces rapidly remaking the world. I hoped the story might inspire conversations about how to envision and work for a better future.
I have been thrilled to learn that a middle school in Canada used “The Bee Maker” in a cross-curricular environmental unit, that it is included in a high school geometry unit focused on bees and biodiversity (part of the Yale National Curriculum Initiative), and its promotion by a group of Youth Services librarians in Ohio. An especially affirming use of the novel has been the unit San Antonio educator Liberty Heise created for eighth graders this past year, and her facilitating my remote meeting with her students.
Now, to make this experience available to more teachers and students, I am offering a free hard copy of “The Bee Maker” to teachers who request one (until I run out!). Digital copies are also available for free through Bibliotech. And yes! I am available to Zoom with classes.
We live in an imperiled time but also one of great opportunity. I have been incredibly inspired by the voices and actions of young people this past year and am confident that 2022 will continue to bring more and more of us together in the struggle for our planet’s health. Storytellers and teachers have a special role to play.
To request a copy of “The Bee Maker” or to schedule a Zoom consultation, write to Mobi at email@example.com and write in the subject line: “Teacher request for Bee Maker book.” In the body of the email, please provide: Name of Teacher & Name of School; Grade/s taught; and mailing address (either home or school address).
Mobi Warren is a retired math teacher, community scientist, poet, and author of the Young Adult novel “The Bee Maker.” She is also a puppeteer and translator of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Miracle of Mindfulness.” She is passionate about the wonder and necessity of insects.