Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review and Interview with Danielle Davis, Author of Zinnia and the Bees, and a BOOK GIVEAWAY!

I am thrilled to review Danielle Davis' debut middle grade novel, Zinnia and The Bees today!

I got a chance to read an ARC of this book and adored it!

The Story:

Talk about having a lousy day. While Zinnia's seventh grade classmates are celebrating the last day of school, she's cooped up in the vice principal's office, serving detention. Her offense? Yarn bombing a statue of the school mascot. And when Zinnia rushes home to commiserate with her older brother, Adam, who also happens to be her best friend, she's devastated to discover that he's left home with no explanation. Just when it looks like Zinnia's day can't possibly get any worse, a colony of frantic honeybees mistakes her hair for a hive and lands on her head! Told from the alternating perspectives of Zinnia a humorous young loner and knitter and an unintentionally comical hive of honeybees, this quirky, heartfelt novel will strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt alone, betrayed, or misunderstood as it explores the challenges that come with learning to trust yourself and the often messy process of discovering the true meaning to home.

My review of the book:

I loved the book so much I read it in one sitting. Zinnia is having a terrible summer. Her beloved older brother Adam left home in the night to get away from their overbearing mother (whom Zinnia refers to using her formal name Dr. Flossdrop, she's on the outs with her best friends, her mom's just rescued the creepiest dog, and a strange boy has moved in next door. Oh yeah, and bees have nested in her head! A wonderful story about dealing with unresolved pain and fear, and learning to trust, this book, beautifully written by Danielle Davis, is sure to be beloved by all middle graders who read Zinnia's story. A true delight!

The Interview:

Q1. One of the rawest things about the book is Zinnia’s brother, Adam, taking off. We don’t often see a sibling doing that in MG fiction. Can you speak about sibling bonds in MG fiction?

I think in middle grade fiction, siblings can often be found on the sidelines as main characters navigate their way in the world outside the home, in friendships and new experiences. But I’ve read some wonderful books recently in which sibling relationships are key, providing both conflict and, ultimately, connection and heart. In Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet, Farah’s little brother provides the impetus for Farah to play a dangerous game in order to save him. In Elana K. Arnold’s A Boy Called Bat (though more of a chapter book), Bat’s older sister serves as both antagonist and ally and adds realism to the story. And Erin Entrada Kelly’s latest, Hello, Universe, has one character whose little sister is a constant part of her world, her partner, with all the nuance that entails. And in her earlier book, The Land of Forgotten Girls, Soledad is also an older sibling, looking out for her little sister in the midst of a very difficult situation.

In terms of story mechanics for my book, Adam, Zinnia’s best friend and older brother, leaves her high and dry because I needed Zinnia to be reeling and feel like everything was out of her control. The bees arriving on her head after Adam departs are almost a metaphor for that out of control feeling (and what it can feel like for many kids as they navigate the sometimes itchy, new, uncomfortable, and out-of-control process of growing up).

Adam striking out on his own independent journey feels to Zinnia like she’s lost him forever. But in the end, the sibling bond changing doesn’t equal its permanent loss. It stretches and flexes in order to allow for growth.

Q2. Another brilliant thing about the book is that Zinnia isn’t always easy to get along with and struggles with friendships. Did you decide early on that was Zinnia was experiencing would also be experienced by the bees?

This book was seven or eight years on and off in the making, so it’s hard for me to remember the origin of my decisions, but I checked some of my oldest drafts and the bees’ narrations were in fact there since the beginning! At the time, Colony Collapse Disorder and the bee disappearance were in the news a lot. I’d also heard a story of industrial bees, which is a real thing. Beekeepers travel with bees that are used to pollinate fruit and vegetables all over the country. Amazing, right? I was drawn to the idea of personifying a fictional group of them who are looking for something more in life, a home and a lifestyle like the bees who roam on their own. And I hoped the bees had potential as the collective character I envisioned—communal, overly dramatic, existential, and hilarious without meaning to be. (I really love those bees!)

I think in terms of Zinnia and the honeybees having a parallel experience, that’s something that developed naturally. The bees are literally stuck, searching for a home and without much hope of finding a new one (and blaming poor Bee 641 for scouting such an improper hive on Zinnia’s head!). At the same time, Zinnia feels stuck with the bees and is searching for her own home in a more figurative sense. She’s looking to feel at home with herself and others, and to trust herself as well as the people in her life.

Q3. A theme that really resonated with me in the book was that of control. Zinnia’s mom, Dr. Flossdrop (brilliant name BTW!) tries to control her world by marching through it in an almost mechanical, demanding way, Zinnia almost recreates the same thing by not sharing that a hive of bees is nesting in her hair. I love when kids discover that their parents are also fallible - how did you know just how far to take your characters before they would have been cartoon-ish?

I am an admirer or fairy tales, as well as fiction that has strangeness or a little bit of magic. Aimee Bender is one of my favorite writers, for example. I was introduced to her work (she’s an L.A. writer) when I worked as a teacher’s assistant at a nearby community college, and her stories were a big influence when I started writing. Shaun Tan’s picture books have also been hugely influential. So, I really like elements of the bizarre in stories while simultaneously trying to portray real, true emotions. I guess I wanted to write a story that was whimsical and a bit larger than life but felt relatable too. And the same goes for the characters that populate it who are, yes, pretty zany, especially the supporting characters. There’s birdwatching Birch, France-obsessed, baker Aunt Mildred, and neighbor and ergonomic coach Lou. And also useful Dr. Flossdrop who presents perfectly on track to everyone else, but who, we come to find out, feels fairly lost herself. One of the joys of middle grade is having fun while creating—so I had a lot of fun dreaming up these characters! And I’ve always seen the story as an animated film in my head, so that might’ve had something to do with the zany factor as well.

Q4. What’s next??

I’m currently working on a chapter book, and I have some picture book projects too. And I’m soon to return to another middle grade manuscript that I’ve been away from for a few years to see if it still feels tangible for me after all this time.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you about Zinnia and the Bees on Middle Grade Minded!

Where to find Danielle:

At her website
on Twitter

The Giveaway!

Capstone Publishing has graciously offered to give away a copy of Zinnia and the Bees! Leave a message below, between now and Friday, sharing your own experience with bees!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Unknown said...

I worked at my county Extension office in the horticultural dept in 2005/6 when Colony Collapse was first being seen. Amazing that it took so long for the powers that "bee" to understand how important it was and to let the public know.
Would love to read Zinnia and the Bees. Congratulations Danielle Davis on your MG debut novel!

Melissa Guerrette said...

Hooray, it's out! I'm so very curious about this book and can't wait to get my hands on a copy.

Andrea Mack said...

My most memorable experience with bees involves getting stung on my bare foot when walking across the grass to our patio. But one of the reasons I continue to plant and maintain my gardens is to help birds and insects.

Shari Green said...

This sounds wonderful! Adding it to my TBR list. :) Thanks for the review and interview!

Lisa Maucione said...

This book sounds unique and fascinating. My last experience with a bee was when there was one flying around my room at school. The students get so nervous about it. They just don't believe that it won't bother them if they don't bother it.

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

Hi everybody! Thanks for entering! Andrea Mack is the winner of this giveaway! Check your inbox Andrea!

danielle said...

Many thanks, Vicki!

danielle said...

That makes me very happy! :)

danielle said...

Yay! Thanks, Shari!

danielle said...

Thank you so much for having me, for the review, and for these thoughtful questions. You're the best, Wendy!