MEET THE AUTHOR: A Conversation with Celia Straus – Author of Livy Little Honey Bee

MEET THE AUTHOR: A Conversation with Celia Straus – Author of Livy Little Honey Bee 683 1024 Reader Views Kids

Livy Little Honey Bee

Celia Straus
Leschenault Press (2023)
ISBN: 978-1923020016

Celia Straus has written hundreds of award-winning shows for television, receiving a 2020 Emmy nomination for Kids Speak Out, a YouTube series on Youth and the pandemic. For years she created and wrote the Emmy-winning Memorial Day Concert on PBS and ADL’s annual Concert Against Hate at the Kennedy Center. Her love for children and dedication to their well-being inspired her YA poetry trilogy, including the national bestseller Prayers on My Pillow, Ballantine 1998. With gifted illustrator Tina Salvesen, she writes children’s picture books, including the BoBo and Iris series. Celia and Tina are also the creators of If An Elephant Can Wear A Mask So Can You: Animal ABCs in both English and Spanish versions. Celia lives in Washington, DC with her husband when not visiting her two grown daughters and adored five grandchildren.

Hi Celia, welcome to Reader Views Kids! What is Livy Little Honey Bee about?

Livy is a honey bee who spends her days gathering nectar and pollen from flowers with other worker bees. But Livy runs into trouble when her determination to express who she really is and what she values in life runs counter to the rest of the hive. Ultimately, she is called before the Queen Bee to plead her case.

What inspired you to write a story centered on a little honey bee like Livy?

I was outside in the garden with one of my granddaughters, Olivia (“Livy,” age four) and she was fearful that the bees buzzing around the daisies we were picking might sting her. When I told her that bees wouldn’t hurt her if she left them alone and that they had work to do, she was curious. “What work do bees do?” she asked. Her question became my inspiration.

Livy’s character is vibrant and non-conformist. Is she based on someone you know, or is she a purely fictional creation?

 Livy, the character is much like Livy my granddaughter, independent, self-confident, and brave. She “marches to her own drum” and can be very stubborn when she is asked to conform.

Livy wants to be as colorful as the flowers she sees. Why was this desire important to her story?

As a children’s book author, I am always looking for ways to communicate self-confidence, yet at the same time, responsibility for others. Livy wants to be a rainbow honey bee like the many colors of the flowers she visits, unlike the rest of the orange and black hive. She also likes to linger to admire the colors of a flower rather than collect its nectar and move on. Her desire to be different gets her into trouble and she is called before the Queen. She has to negotiate what she wants (to be rainbow-colored) and her responsibility to the hive.

The theme of individuality is strong in your book. What message do you hope children take away from being different?

As I say on the last page of the book, “Be true to who you are.” I want children to understand that it’s okay to be different from those around you. And if you believe in yourself, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. You can even be a rainbow bee!

The Queen Bee plays a crucial role in the story. What do you believe her decision teaches young readers about authority and empathy?

The Queen Bee has a huge responsibility as shown on the page where the worker bees are going through the hive to talk to her. She is not only the ultimate authority for the hive; the hive exists to keep her alive and producing eggs. Yet, as Queen, she, like Livy, is an outsider of sorts, which makes her ultimately sympathetic to Livy’s request. The story demonstrates her desire to be a fair decision-maker.

Your book also touches on the importance of community and working together. How did you decide to approach this topic for a younger audience?

By choosing a story about bees and the dynamics of a hive, I wanted to demonstrate how a community works together to produce, in this case, honey, and how interdependent and cohesive the many different types of bees must be to survive and thrive. Scientists are still studying how communities of bees and ants, for example, cooperate in their constructed environment. Mira, the illustrator, did such a brilliant job of showing the inner workings of the community on page after page.

How did you balance the storytelling between providing educational content about bees and keeping the narrative engaging for children?

In the case of Livy, and all my children’s books, I try to create characters children can relate to and then give the character a challenge to meet that my readers (in this case young children and their parents) also encounter in their lives. I make decisions about what I want readers to learn and then craft a story that combines the character with the educational content in an exciting way. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how illustrations are the key to an engaging narrative. This was the case with my BoBo and Iris books about an orphaned baby elephant in Kenya, Livy, and other books to be published next year.

In what ways do you believe your book can contribute to a child’s understanding of environmental issues?

My rule of thumb is always to choose an endangered species to be the main character and then you’ve got a natural problem for the character to solve. Whether it’s orphaned elephants, honey bees, monarch butterflies, or red pandas (the latter two coming out in 2024) the environmental impacts on the main character’s behavior and, often, survival. In order to interact with this environment and also thrive and learn, the main character, in this case, a honey bee, must be open to the world around them.

A portion of the book’s proceeds go to conservation organizations. Can you tell us more about this decision?

Because I am actively involved in animal rights, it made sense to donate my author royalties to the not-for-profits that work to protect the species in the story. For Livy, that is the Pollinator Partnership, the National Resources Defence Council, and others that preserve the health of pollinators. As the Queen says, “We need the flowers and the flowers need us.” For the BoBo books, it was several organizations that provide sanctuary to elephants in Africa and Asia.

Could you share some insights into your collaboration with illustrator Mira Hirabayashi? What was it like working with someone to bring your story to life?

Working with Mira was an absolute joy, as it is with all the incredibly talented illustrators I work with. Illustrations make up the magic of a children’s book, even more than the words. Think of the classics in children’s literature that are known for the story but loved for the illustrations. I try to create close to the complete text before starting the collaboration with an illustrator so they will know where the character is going and how it will change. Mira and I would meet via Zoom every two or three weeks to discuss her progress. She would email me sketches and rough drafts before each meeting. Her interpretation of the story was amazingly spot-on, and her idea for the Queen was perfect. My only suggestion was to add her crown. What we both learned was the importance of giving the main character expressive features, a bit of a challenge since Livy is a bee! But Mira was up to it. As with all my illustrators, we split the royalties, fifty-fifty.

How did you research the details about honey bees and pollination to ensure accuracy in your book?

I used the internet and websites that had to do with research and preservation of pollinators like the ones I’m donating to. I also bought a couple of those incredible National Geographic books for young children on animals and insects, and I also bought them for Mira. The Nat Geo books have exactly the right amount of reliable scientific information to intersperse through a story.

Are there any additional resources or activities that you suggest to parents or educators to complement your book?

Once again, I’d suggest the National Geographic books for young readers of various levels for accurate information and, of course, excellent photography and graphics. And, since I live in Washington, DC, I always take young visitors to the Insect Zoo at the Smithsonian. Brilliant! There are additional children’s books and activities books to be found on Amazon that tell the story of pollinators. But I think for the study of bees, the best activity, and I haven’t done it, would be a visit to a beekeeper to see how a hive works “up close and personal.”

What has been the most rewarding feedback you’ve received from children or parents who have read your book?

The best compliment I receive from children and their parents is that they read Livy Little Honey Bee again and again! Or an older sibling will read it to a younger sibling.

How do you envision parents or educators using your story as a tool to discuss individuality and teamwork with children?

Livy, just like my granddaughter, is determined to be who she really is, and is willing to take responsibility for her values when she talks to the Queen.  By making the Queen a sympathetic adult who listens and tries to come up with a compromise, I am hoping children will see that they can “plead their case” if they do so in a rational way.  At the same time, the worker bees have a point: Livy isn’t pulling her weight. So, the reader learns that the bargain the Queen makes with Livy is that while she can express her individuality, she also has to be a team player and collect her share of nectar and pollen. Plus, by their very nature, bees are an example of the epitome of teamwork.

How do you think your book fits into the larger conversation about children’s literature and its role in shaping values?

Today, more and more children’s literature tackles being who you really are and not being afraid of expressing yourself. Whether exemplified in a new genre of self-identification stemming out of social awakening to LGBTQ or the political movement, Black Lives Matter, I believe parents today are looking for tools to teach their children that diversity and respect for all people is part of what makes us empathetic, compassionate and whole human beings.

What is the most surprising thing you learned about honey bees during your writing process?

I was most struck by the inner workings of the hive and how honey bees actually return to their hive to “sleep” before starting out again once the sun comes up. While aware of the communal nature of pollinators such as bees, I did not have a coherent visual of a cross-section of a hive. Mira created that for us.

Are there any plans for more adventures featuring Livy or other characters from the hive?

At this point, Livy is not having additional adventures but that could always change! Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on the next two books, Sophie, the Monarch Butterfly, Mission to Mexico, about another very determined and self-confident character, Sophie, who ends up leading her “hive,” in this case hundreds of endangered Monarchs, from the upper American northwest on a dangerous migration to their winter home in the mountains of Mexico. Another book, about to be published is called Connor, Red Panda, about two Red Pandas and their friend, a Pangolin, who must travel across the mountains of Nepal to the safety of an animal sanctuary in India. Both Sophie and Connor are names of other grandchildren of mine.

Finally, if Livy could give her readers one piece of advice, what would it be? 

Bee True To Who You Are


Amazon:  Author’s Amazon Page and Little Livy Honey Bee Amazon Page

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