Set in a future when there are no longer any bees, children are employed on this Australian fruit farm to fertilise the flowers with feather wands, much like the pear farmers of Hanyuan in China do today. Peony desperately wants to become a ‘bee’, but she is only 9, and too young. Still, life on the farm, living in a hut with her older sister Magnolia and their Gramps, is pretty good most of the time, and she rejoices for her friend Applejoy when he is awarded the coveted bee uniform. The arrival of her mother, who is working in the city, upsets this happy life, as Ma wants one of the girls to go with her and earn more money.
Peony’s adventures as she tries to learn how to behave well working as a maid in a big house are hilarious, and the difference between unhappy rich people who live in a huge house is contrasted with her happy life in a tiny shack on the farm. She does have an impact on the daughter of the house, Esmeralda, a spoiled girl of her own age who seems to be agoraphobic, and her friendship and encouragement is acknowledged by the family when, of course, it all goes wrong, and Peony runs away back home. Life is tough on the farm and in the city- there are two deaths off- stage, but generally all ends well. The characters are all very credible: the squabbling sisters, the stern but kindly housekeeper in the big house, weak Mum and her selfish boyfriend, “The Ape”, and the lovely homely Gramps. This enjoyable story is written in the present tense as if from Peony’s point of view, with some grammatical oddities and with all her feelings and misunderstandings, and this really does work.