Headstrong heroine of ‘Queen Bee’ transforms from worker to warrior

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published October 10, 2017

 Lifelong nature lover Elizabeth Weigandt’s first novel, “Queen Bee,” takes readers on an adventure as a young worker bee seeks a cure for the illness devastating her hive. (Photo provided by Elizabeth Weigandt)

Lifelong nature lover Elizabeth Weigandt’s first novel, “Queen Bee,” takes readers on an adventure as a young worker bee seeks a cure for the illness devastating her hive. (Photo provided by Elizabeth Weigandt)

GROSSE POINTES — When she was growing up in Royal Oak, Elizabeth Weigandt, of Grosse Pointe Farms, fell under the spell of quest books like “Watership Down,” “The Hobbit” and “The Last Unicorn.”

Her own first novel, “Queen Bee,” is similarly aimed at young readers — ages 8 to 12 — and like the books that inspired Weigandt, it could well become an indelible part of childhood for this generation and generations to come. Headstrong heroine Manuka is a young worker bee determined to find a cure for what’s killing the bees in her hive, and with best friend and worker bee Cotton in tow, she finds adventure and new friends in the outside world as well as danger as she gets closer to the truth about what’s threatening her fellow bees.

“I’ve been a lifelong reader and a lifelong writer,” said Weigandt, 44, who works as a public relations manager for an automotive company. “But the stories I loved the most in my life were the stories I read when I was between 10 and 12. Those were the stories that meant a lot to me as a writer and as a person. You have to be passionate about what you’re writing … so I knew I want to write for this age group.”

Weigandt will be giving a presentation and signing copies of “Queen Bee” from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Grosse Pointe Woods. She’ll be joined by Brian Peterson-Roest, an educator, beekeeper and founder of the nonprofit Bees in the D, which is aimed at protecting honeybees and raising awareness of their role in the environment.

Weigandt, who lived in Detroit before moving to the Farms last fall, said she set “Queen Bee” on Belle Isle. She said she’s long been fascinated by bees and thought they would be great subjects for a book. Weigandt said there are about 40,000 honeybees in a hive, and all but roughly 1,000 are females. The hives are run by a queen bee who has given birth to all of the hive’s worker bees, and it’s the female bees who build, run and protect the hive.

“Boys have a minor role in hive life,” Weigandt said. “Everything is done by the females.”

But that doesn’t mean male readers are ignoring “Queen Bee.”

“I’m finding that boys are really responding to this story,” Weigandt said. “Boys like an adventure, and they can identify with Manuka. … And Manuka is a fighter.”

She’s also somewhat of an outsider, which underscores the importance of being yourself.

Weigandt relates to her heroine.

“I think Manuka is a lot more brave (than me), but I identified with Manuka,” she said. “Manuka is a lot more brash. She has to get better control over herself. She just does what she’s going to do, and I was a lot more cautious (as a youth). Sometimes she acts without thinking, and I kind of admire that.”

Mark Cheverton, the New York Times bestselling author of Minecraft-inspired novels such as “Invasion of the Overworld” and “Battle for the Nether,” met Weigandt at a writers’ workshop.

“She told me about (‘Queen Bee’) on the way from the airport to the workshop, and I was captivated by the idea of the story,” he said by email.

Cheverton was equally impressed when he read the book.

“I love Elizabeth’s writing,” he said in an email interview. “There’s something very unique in Elizabeth’s narrative voice. It’s very soft and smooth throughout the story, even though there is lots of action. Somehow, she’s managed to be exciting in her book, but not scary, which will draw not only older kids to the book but also younger ones as well.”

Weigandt was one of the participants at Pollinator Palooza, an educational event in August about creatures such as bees and butterflies at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores. Gretchen Abrams, the education programs coordinator at Ford House, said the author was on hand to sign books during the event, and she said “Queen Bee” is “a great book for young readers.”

“It is a great way for kids to learn a lot about bees, how they live, work (and) survive together,” Abrams said by email. “(The book contains) a lot of accurate nonfiction wrapped up in a captivating story appealing to young readers.”

As an author who has written for young readers, Cheverton said “Queen Bee” is not only engaging, but also a book with an important message.

“This book is the whole package for parents,” Cheverton said. “It has a great and exciting story, which will be great for all kids. The main character, Manuka, is someone you instantly like. She’s a speak-your-mind kind of bee who calls someone out when she sees something wrong, and will do something if (she sees) the opportunity to help. Added to that is the subtle message woven throughout the story about the environment.

“This book will give parents many opportunities to talk with their kids about the environment and global warming, talk with them about bullying, talk with them about doing what you think is right, and let them discuss self-confidence and believing in one’s self,” he continued.

Cheverton believes “Queen Bee” “is gonna be a huge hit,” and other readers so far seem to agree with that assessment.

Trish Widger, who serves on the program planning committee of the Book Club of Grosse Ile, invited Weigandt to address the club at a meeting this fall, and she said via email that Weigandt was “entertaining and a charming speaker” whose visit was met by “extremely positive” feedback from those in attendance.

“Even though it was a children’s book, I thought the message was powerful and could still be of interest to a mature crowd,” Widger said in an email.

“Queen Bee” is the first in what Weigandt hopes will be a trilogy.

Barnes & Noble is located at 19221 Mack Ave. in Grosse Pointe Woods. All ages are welcome to the presentation. For more information about Weigandt and “Queen Bee,” visit www.elizabethweigandt.com.