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Cristina Kessler

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The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela - A Tale from Africa
by Cristina Kessler   

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Books by Cristina Kessler
· Trouble in Timbuktu
· No Condition Is Permanent
· One Night: A Story from the Desert
· My Great-Grandmother's Gourd
· Jubela
                >> View all



Publisher:  Holiday House ISBN-10:  0823418588 Type: 


Copyright:  June 25, 2006


In the mountains of Ethiopia, a girl named Almaz vows that one day her honey will be the best in the land. But the other beekeepers laugh her away and tell her it's men's work. Almaz refuses to take no for an answer and uses her smarts to prove them all wrong. In this spirited text with stunning illustrations, a girl shows that brains - not brawn - is the key to making her dream come true.

Long ago, high in the mountains of Ethiopia, where purple shadows fill the valleys and heavy mists hug the hillsides, the bees arrived in Lalibela.

Some said they came to announce the biorth of a new king, while others thought only of thier hioney - sweet, rich and golden.

As the centuires passed and the word spread, villagers poured in from far and near to buy the sweet nectar.
Author's Note:

The Legend of Lalibela

In 1181 a young boy was born in Roha, Ethiopia. His brother, Harbay, was destined to be king until a mysterious thing happened.
Legend has it that one day his mother saw the baby lying happily in his cradle, surrounded by a dense swarm of bees. Recalling an old Ethiopian belief that the animal world could foretell the arrival of important people, the second sight came to his mother and she cried out, “The bees know that this child will become king,” and so she named him ‘Lalibela’, which means ‘the bee recognizes his sovereignty’. She was sure that the bees represented the troops that he would lead one day as king.
King Lalibela ruled for many years, and today, visitors flock to the town re-named after him to see for themselves the incredible churches he had built, hewn from stone. The churches of Lalibela are often called the Eighth Wonder of the World. And to this day, the fineness of Lalibela’s honey is still known far and wide.

Professional 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)

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