cover image The Royal Bee

The Royal Bee

Frances Park. Boyds Mills Press, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-56397-614-8

The Park sisters once again look back to their Korean roots for inspiration, but this time they undermine the suspense employed to such strong effect in their debut, My Freedom Trip. Song-ho, a sangmin boy, performs household chores dressed in rags while the privileged yangban dress in finery, attend school and compete in the Royal Bee at the Governor's palace. One day, Master Min catches Song-ho eavesdropping at the schoolroom door. When Song-ho asks the master if he can become his pupil, learn to read and write and thus ""earn a good living for his mother,"" the man dismisses the boy. Readers may be confounded when a turn of the page reveals an abrupt about-face; the story line plants Song-ho firmly inside the classroom where he is inexplicably accepted into the school (""After each yangban pupil in the classroom had tested Song-ho, Master Min spoke: `Welcome to the Sodang School, Song-ho' ""). This clumsy transition at the plot's pivotal point cuts into the credibility and flow of the tale. A similar narrative leap omits the boy's climb to the top of the class and his peers' growing respect, which results in their selecting him as representative of the school for the Royal Bee competition. Rendered in oil paints on board, Zhong-Yuan Zhang's (Moon Festival) inconsistent paintings intermittently depict characters as blurred or wooden, yet successfully convey the likable hero's sincerity and determination. Ages 6-9. (Feb.)