Review of The Bees of Notre Dame, by Meghan P. Browne & E. B. Goodale

The Bees of Notre Dame

by Meghan P. Browne
illustrated by E. B. Goodale

Random House Studio, 2023. 36 pages.
Review written November 16, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

I love Paris, and so I also love picture books set in Paris. But instead of being fictional, this one is a true story of the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris. Honestly, that makes it even more wonderful for me. The pictures transport me to Paris right away, with one of my favorite Notre Dame gargoyles on the title page and an iconic metro station on the next, beside spring gardens overlooking Notre Dame.

I can’t resist including the photo I actually took when in Paris in April.

This book evokes that joyful feeling with the words and pictures.

When spring arrives in Paris, people pop up like tulips from underground after working, riding, and resting through short winter days.

Dawn breaks earlier each morning. The sun says “Come! Walk in the streets to feel my warmth on your face. Smell the buttery croissants. Hear the accordion’s song.”

What I didn’t know is that bees were kept in hives on top of the roof of the sacristy of Notre Dame. The book tells how the bees rested during the winter, but came out in April, flying over the rooftops to the gardens of Paris. We hear about the cycle of the bees gathering pollen, constructing the honeycomb in the hive, and nursing new bees there.

Then everything changes.

Next comes a silent spread of the cathedral burning.

More follows about the tragedy of the fire.

And when the spire falls,
the whole world cries.

But it quickly transitions to firefighters working to save the cathedral and the treasures within — including the bees.

The book closes with pictures of the rebuilding efforts — with the bees in the foreground, so we know they’ve survived. And uses bees as an example of being stronger together.

Although the book covers a tragedy, it does so in a way that is hopeful and full of beauty. “More About the Story” at the back fills in details — yes, the bees survived. They are no longer on a rooftop, but in the garden next to the sacristy during the rebuilding. Charts on the endpapers show an overhead view of the cathedral before and after the fire.

A wonderful approach to a major landmark and a major event — bringing hope by focusing on the little creatures who survived and thrive.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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