Zinnia and the Bees: Interview with Author Danielle Davis
Zinnia and the Bees is out today from author Danielle Davis, and we have nothing but amazing things to say about it. It’s such a relatable story filled with unique characters that really stand out yet feel warm and worn-in, like you might already know them in real life. It’s an absolutely adorable read sprinkled with just a touch of magical realism that packs a punch of emotion. If you’ve ever felt a little betrayed by your friend group or struggled to understand how you’re really feeling about a situation, Zinnia’s journey will hit close to home.
Zinnia and the Bees nails all the feels you go through during those sometimes hard middle school years while showing readers that even when things are at their worst, there’s always a way through. It’s not all drama though! This book is funny, clever, and it’ll leave you wishing you could tag along with Zinnia and Birch on their adventures. Watch the super cute book trailer here.
Zinnia’s journey begins on the last day of seventh grade when she wakes up super early to yarn bomb a statue of the school mascot with her brother. Zinnia shares an extremely close bond with her brother, so when she gets home from spending her last day of school cooped up in detention, she’s shocked and hurt to realize that he’s disappeared without leaving even a note. All he left behind was his favorite pair of boots. This hits her extra hard as she’s been drifting from her best friends and doesn’t have a great relationship with her mom, Dr. Flossdrop.
Just when it seems like Zinnia’s life can’t get any worse, a colony of honeybees takes up residence in her hive-like curly hair. This unique story is told through both the perspective of Zinnia as she works to put her life back together and the perspective of the bees who are trying desperately to find a new place to live.
Zinnia and the Bees is hands down one of our favorite books we’ve read this year. (It certainly has our favorite cover of the year!) We chatted with Danielle Davis about how Zinnia and the Bees came to be, advice she has for young writers, and what she’d do if she had bees living in her hair.
Interview with Danielle Davis, Author of Zinnia and the Bees:
YAYOMG!: Zinnia and the Bees manages to be both super quirky and super relatable. Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book?
DANIELLE DAVIS: I wanted to write a book that was exactly that: zany, hopefully funny, and with an element of the strange, but also emotionally true—a book that might be helpful to young readers as they navigate the prickly process of growing up, even if bees arriving on their head isn’t part of it.
YAYOMG!: Zinnia is a yarn bomb queen. Are you also a knitter?
DANIELLE: I’m sadly not a knitter though I did take a class years ago in order to write Zinnia’s story (I was not gifted at it to say the least). I really admire people who are able to create with their hands and I like writing characters who are good at or interested in things that are out of my scope. Plus, knitters, crocheters, and yarn bombers rock!
YAYOMG!: We loved how the chapters narrated by the bees were hilarious, but also pretty scientifically accurate. Are you a bee lover? Did you have to do a lot of research?
DANIELLE: I definitely had to research in order to do the bees justice. I started with a terrific book called Bees: Nature’s Little Wonders by Candace Savage and supplemented as I went along with the internet. I learned stuff along the way like that bees make bread! Even though they probably don’t call it that themselves, I still like the name. They add honey or nectar and saliva to pollen, then they pack those ingredients into their honeycomb cells and in a while, voila, bee bread. It’s got protein, vitamins, enzymes, and all this amazing stuff in it. So yeah, bees are incredible and they can cook. By having done research, I was able to naturally inhabit the bees as a collective character and sprinkle in bits about their behavior and anatomy for comic effect (I hope!).
I’ve got a bunch of cool bee facts here!
YAYOMG!: Do you hope this book will inspire kids to get involved in saving the bees out in the real world?
DANIELLE: I’d be delighted if the book sparks an interest in helping bees, the environment, and/or a kid’s community! In fact, I see one of the takeaways as: “bee yourself, bee creative, connect.” I absolutely hope in some small way this story can help kid readers find their own way of nurturing their passions, solving problems, and connecting with others as Zinnia does.
YAYOMG!: Zinnia and the Bees is filled with such adorably unique characters. Were they inspired by anyone you know? Do you relate to them in any way?
DANIELLE: Thank you! I’m quite fond of these characters, so much so that they feel like real people to me. But none of them is based on anyone in particular though I now see the way certain details of individuals I’ve come across made their way into the book in small ways. I have a soft spot for Aunt Mildred, someone I wish I’d had in my life, and I hope every kid can find someone like her in one way or another. And there’s a fair amount of my husband’s loyalty and kindness in Zinnia’s new friend Birch.
YAYOMG!: Tell us more about Bee 641.
DANIELLE: Oh, Bee 641! I really feel for her. She’s the scout who’s elected to find a hive-home for the colony of bees when their industrial bee truck crashes and they make a break for it. She does her best, but the only hive possibility she finds when she’s under pressure and searching the city is, well, Zinnia’s hair. The rest of the colony is not happy with where she’s landed and stranded them. But, not to worry, she gets a second chance in the end. The bees’ journey and Zinnia’s parallel one another as they discover that home isn’t always perfect or what they might’ve imagined for themselves. But it’s home and they can feel at home in it.
YAYOMG!: What would you do if you had a whole swarm of bees living in your hair?
DANIELLE: Hahaha. I would probably head straight to a beekeeper for help. Or figure out how to live in the shower.
YAYOMG!: Zinnia’s anxiety plays a big part in how she acts and the trust she places in the people around her. It even seems to influence her all gray wardrobe choices. Can you share a little on why writing a young character with anxiety was important to you?
DANIELLE: I was a highly anxious child, but I didn’t exactly have language for it at the time. Zinnia’s experience is sort of infused with anxiety even though it’s not called out or addressed directly. Zinnia’s situation gets worse and worse on her last day of seventh grade: she feels betrayed by her former friends when she gets in trouble for her yarn bomb at school, her brother/best friend/yarn bombing accomplice leaves without explanation, and she feels angry and strained with her mom who she blames for her brother leaving. And then, bees land on her head! The bees might be seen as a metaphor for all the stuff that heightens Zinnia’s anxiety, or for growing up, or for stuff that’s out of one’s control. I like to imagine some young readers recognizing themselves in and relating to Zinnia, and feeling hopeful when they see her begin to feel more at ease in herself and with others.
YAYOMG!: You have experience as a middle school teacher. Has teaching influenced your writing in any way?
DANIELLE: In addition to loving the job of teaching middle school students, teaching is where I learned to love middle grade literature and was an opportunity to really absorb some wonderful books—The House on Mango Street, A Wrinkle in Time—the way you only can when teaching them and reading them with young people. Plus, kids rule.
YAYOMG!: Do you have any advice for our readers who love writing?
DANIELLE: One piece of advice I have is to take walks (or your equivalent of taking walks). For me, if I think I can’t write or if I’m out of ideas or I can’t solve a story problem, I take a walk. Nine times out of ten, I’ve got some stuff recorded in my phone’s voice memos afterward to make me want to get back to my desk with somewhere, storywise, new to travel.
Danielle’s Zinnia and the Bees Fun Facts:
– Zinnia has a hair full of bees, but did you know about bee beards? A beekeeper can help you get a colony of bees to land on your face and upper body, if you want them to! (It doesn’t hurt the bees and, usually, not the human either except for maybe a sting or two.)
– When I originally started Zinnia and the Bees, it was aimed at an adult audience. But as soon as I switched it to be for tweens, it clicked!
– I started this story in 2008, so it took almost ten years from beginning the process to publication (with lots of breaks and other stuff in between).
– Dr. Flossdrop was not Zinnia’s mom’s original name. I can’t tell you what it was, but I found out there was a TV doctor with that name, so I felt compelled to change it once I was working with my editor. I had the hardest time coming up with a new one, and I never expected this, but now I like Dr. Flossdrop even better!
– Yarn bombing is a real thing. Some really wild stuff has been covered in yarn by knitters and crocheters: a bus, a building, an airplane, a train, plus lots and lots of trees.
– I commissioned a crocheted cover of Zinnia and the Bees! It was done by yarnbomber extraordinaire Jenny Brown who’s done a couple of yarn bombs that relate to children’s literature.
Isn’t this crocheted cover the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen? Ready to get to know Zinnia for yourself? Zinnia and the Bees hits shelves today from Capstone Publishing!
Note: We received this book for free from Capstone Publishing in exchange for a fair and honest review. We were under no obligation to write a positive review.