Learning from Bees

Book review: Ali’s Bees

Rosalie Grosch
Arden Hills, Minn.

Ali's Bees by Bruce Olav Solheim

Ali’s Bees was written by history professor Bruce Olav Solheim, the son of hard-working Norwegian immmigrants.

After Ali loses his parents in war he goes to live in America with his grandfather, Mohammad Salam. As an awkward middle-school student who has experienced tragedy in his homeland, Ali tries to fit in with his schoolmates. Sometimes he doesn’t know the rules that go along with his new life.

His grandfather advises him to speak English now that he is living in a new country. Ali wants to know why people seem to be so aggressive in America. His grandfather suggests it is because people are unhappy.

Grandfather reminds Ali that bees, too, can be aggressive. They usually attack when people “freak out,” says Grandfather, and Ali laughs when his grandfather uses such a phrase. “One must make friends with the bees and stay calm,” continues Grandfather. The lesson of the bees gives the reader a sense of what is to come in the story.

Ali, excited to do a project on bees, agrees to allow his classmate, Lupe, to be a part of the project. When another classmate, Jenks, is asked to be the third person in the project, Jenks angrily runs out of the room, shouting, “I’m not working with a terrorist!”

As the author develops the story, we learn why Jenks is so unhappy and angry. His father, bitter and hostile after being severely injured in the Iraq War, takes out his anger on his son. Jenks longs for his father’s approval and love but receives none.

Ali tries to fit in with the young people around him. He is not very good at baseball, but his grandfather loves the American sport and Ali makes a determined effort to learn how to play. Jenks pokes fun at him and laughs at Ali for his many mistakes. Ali does not let Jenks’s ridicule break him.

Relationships begin with trust. The honey from the bees in sealed jars never spoils, Ali says in his report. So it is with people who live in many different lands. We can never live in this big wide world without each other. Bees, small as they are, count for one-third of the food we eat. If they work that hard for us we should work just as hard to save them.

The children learn that cooperation, friendship, and compassion bind them together, and, united, they would remain indivisible. After they get to know each other and realize that each of them has lost something, Grandfather and Jenks’s father come to respect and trust each other, as well. Understanding builds friendship. Acceptance is a gift. The author has related this lesson in a wonderful way.

Author Bruce Olav Solheim was born to hard-working Norwegian immigrant parents. He is a distinguished professor of history at Citrus College in Glendora, Calif. He has published five books and written seven plays, two of which have been produced.

Ali’s Bees, by Bruce Olav Solheim, was published in 2017.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 15, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.