Monday, February 06, 2006

Bee Season

I bought this book a while ago, and found it last Thursday during the whole cleaning thing. It's called Bee Season, by Myla Goldberg. It's about a little girl from whom great things are not expected, until she amazes everyone and wins a school spelling bee, then the district spelling bee, and then the state one. Suddenly she's attracted her scholarly father's attention, and I just got to the part where he's invited her into his study and given her a brand new 3-volume dictionary. He is now helping her prepare for the national bee:

They study for five hours each weekday and seven hours on weekends. It is not about rote memorization. Saul wants Elly to understand these words: their origins, their roots, their prefixes and suffixes. He presents the dictionary as a book worthy of commentary and discussion, a Torah of language.

When Eliza studies, she travels through space and time. In COUSCOUS, she can sense desert and sand-smoothed stone. In CYPRESS, she tastes salt and wind. She visits Africa, Greece, and France. Each word has a story: a Viking birth, a journey across the sea, the exchange from mouth to mouth, from border to border, until æpli is apfel is appel is APPLE, crisp and sweet on Eliza's tongue. When it is night and their studying complete, these are the words she rides into sleep. The voice of the dictionary is the voice of her dreams.

They're turning this into a movie, and I hope they do it justice.

1 comment:

G said...


They recently staged a children's spelling competition (called Hard Spell) here on BBC tv. The pressure was intense - lights, a big empty stage, heartbeat music, an impassive face reading out the words - and the kids mostly melted under it, eventually. It was gladiatorial, but with kids. I couldn't watch it.

The last thing it was about was enjoying the words. Let's hope for better from this movie.