HONEYCOMB, Reading Group Guide

Here’s a handy reading-group guide if you’re thinking of tackling some of the ideas in HONEYCOMB, including questions, background, ideas and as always, a few recipes to get you in a sharing mood….

Author’s note:

Because this isn’t a regular kind of novel, I suggest you structure your reading group sessions as follows. First, that each member of your group chooses a story/chapter they found particularly interesting or worthy of discussion, to present to the rest of the group. Then, the rest of the group joins in to discuss how it fits into the larger honeycomb; what you think the moral is, if appropriate; and in the case of a standalone story, why the author chose to position it where she did in the larger narrative.

I would also suggest running your study of the book over several sessions: that way you need not feel overwhelmed by the amount of ground to cover, and you can simply enjoy the journey.

Reading Group Questions.

  1. Although some of the stories stand alone, they’re part of an expanded, imaginary world created by the author. What are the rules of this world, do you think? What are  its similarities (and differences) to ours?
  2. HONEYCOMB is described both as a novel, and as a story collection. How does this affect the way in which you approach the reading experience? Do you think it’s best to approach it as a collection of short stories, and digest each one separately, or is it best to follow the main story, and use the standalone stories as a means of expanding the fictional universe?
  3. What role do the bees play in the book, and why do you think the author chose this particular metaphor?
  4. The power of stories is a powerful theme that runs through the whole narrative. What role do you think stories like these can play in a modern society?
  5. Although these tales are original, they sometimes come across as nostalgic, even familiar. How did the author achieve this?
  6. What role do settings play in this narrative? Is there a difference between the stories set in more modern, urban settings and those set in more “traditional” environments?
  7. How does the author seek to subvert the traditional folk tale genre with these stories?
  8. The Lacewing King begins this story as a cruel and arrogant despot, and ends it as a very different person. How is he redeemed, and what is the author trying to say about the nature of redemption?
  9. The Barefoot Princess is the opposite of the Lacewing King in almost every way. In what way would you say that this is a book about the triumph of love over selfishness?
  10.  The Harlequin is a wicked, vengeful creature, but in what way is it also a victim?
  11. Many of the stories here are about the enslavement and/or empowerment of women. In what ways would you say the book has a feminist message?
  12.  Some of these stories are set in a farmyard, and feature animals, much as Aesop’s and La Fontaine’s fables. Would you say it is easier for an author to make statements about human nature by disguising the protagonists as animals?
  13. How does the author explore the theme of the outsider or alien in this book?
  14. The style of HONEYCOMB is quite spare, and yet the author manages to convey the different settings and magical realms in some detail. How?
  15. Unlike most standard fairy-tales, the central love story of HONEYCOMB is not at all a traditional one. How would you say this fits into the larger narrative? What broader message is the  author is trying to convey about love?
  16. Some of these stories have been used as part of the author’s #Storytime show. You can listen to some of them here. How do you think these stories benefit from being performed to an audience, or set to music?
  17. Many of these stories were originally not written, but told to a Twitter audience. Does this change the way in which you read them? Why do you think the oral tradition of storytelling was once so important? Do you think it still has something to offer to a 21st-century audience?
  18. How do the illustrations by Charles Vess add to the narrative? Do you find they add an extra dimension, or are they a distraction to you?
  19. Unlike most writers of fables, the author deliberately chose not to include a moral in these stories, even when there is a moral to be found. Would you have preferred it is she had, and why/why not?


Learn more about #Storytime here.

Learn more about Charles Vess here.

Bees are fascinating creatures, providing us with a great deal more than just honey. And they are under threat. Here’s what you can do to help protect them!

Ever made your own honeycomb? It isn’t at all as hard as you might think. Here’s a lovely recipe from my talented friend, David Greenwood-Haigh to fuel your discussion…