The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela

The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela


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.