Image of children sitting on the floor in a classroom, raising their arms.

Review: Fiona’s Bee

Gareth B. Matthews

Review of Fiona’s Bee by Beverly Keller (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1975).  Originally published in Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children 12(3): 1.

Fiona had saved up her money to buy a dog dish, although she had no dog. Every day she put the dish on her front porch and filled it with water. She hoped a dog would drop by and stay for a few minutes. Then she could make friends with the dog, and, perhaps later, with the dog’s owner. That way she could make two friends.

Instead of a dog, what dropped by (in fact, what dropped in!) was a bee. Fiona knew it would not be good for a dog to start drinking the water in her dog dish and end up drinking a bee! Before she even had a chance to make friends with the dog or its owner, she would be in trouble with them both.

Also, Fiona felt sorry for the bee and wanted to rescue it. Realizing that an angry bee might sting, Fiona care­fully and cautiously slipped a twig under the bee, which then slowly dragged itself onto Fiona’s finger. What should she do next?

Fiona developed a plan. She would walk slowly and carefully, so as not to make the bee angry, to the park. In the park she would look for a sunny place with flowers so that the bee, which by now had moved up to her shoulder, would happily fly off and snack on flower nectar.

As Fiona walked ever so slowly and stiffly to the park, a little girl called out to her, “Yike! Don’t move! There’s a bee on your shoulder.” Fiona calmly explained that she had saved the bee from drowning and that it seemed to like her. The little girl, Barbara, was impressed. Barbara introduced Fiona to her brother, Larry, who was also impressed. “I never knew anybody who had a bee,” Larry said.

Soon Fiona was surrounded with kids, all of whom were impressed that she was walking around with a bee on her shoulder. They all watched, with admiration, as Fiona sat down in a sunny spot near flowers. Then, as expected, the bee flew off Fiona’s shoulder and landed on a flower.

The other kids wanted to know if the bee would return to Fiona’s shoulder when it had stuffed itself with nectar. “I’m not going to wait,” said Fiona wisely. “Dogs and cats need people,” she said firmly. “Bees don’t.”

All the kids said good-bye to Fiona’s bee and went home with Fiona. They talked about training bees and lions and cobras. They played a bit and then, as the other kids left, they all said, “See you tomorrow!”

When Fiona’s mother asked her that night if she had had a nice day, she nodded and explained, “I saved a bee and got famous.” She added, “I don’t know if I’ll still be famous tomorrow, but I sure have a lot of friends.”

Admittedly, there is peril in being friendly with a bee. The author of this delightfully offbeat story underlines the peril and encourages precautions. But she also encourages respect, not just for the bee’s sting, but also for the bee itself.

Bees are indeed remarkable. They are the only insects we have been able to make into “farm animals.” Their social organization is complex. The “waggle dance” of honeybees, by which they direct each other to good nectar sources, has been the subject of Ph.D. dissertations in philosophy and linguistics. Even Aristotle, who described, with supreme confidence and authority, the habits of dozens of animal species, admitted to being flummoxed by bees. (Generation of Animals 3.10 760b27 33)

What animals could be pets? I know someone who has a pet pig, and someone else who has a pet lizard. What about people who keep horses? Are their horses their pets? It seems a little odd to call a horse a pet. But why?

No doubt there are practical limits on what can count as a pet, and some­ times practical steps needed to make an animal into a suitable pet. Skunks need to be “deskunked.” Poisonous snakes need to be defanged.

What about the morality of keeping an animal as a pet? Fiona says, simply, “Dogs and cats need people. Bees don’t.” It is certainly true that some dogs are ill suited to live as strays. But others do better. Some animals seem to like human companionship. Others don’t. Is it moral to keep as a pet an animal that is indifferent, or even hostile, to human companionship?

Parents and teachers often think it is good for children to have pets at home and at school. Fiona’s Bee offers a good opportunity to discuss with one’s children what a pet is and what the limits are, or should be, on keeping animals as pets.