American Bee
Book Review

by Derek
(Brisbane, Australia)

Where to get it

As Samir steps to the microphone after Aliya's misspell, he knows that only one speller stands between him and the trophy that gleams to his left...

Samir's word is Roscian, meaning 'of, relating to, or skilled in acting.' 'Roscian?' Samir asks, making the word a big question. He looks, for the first time in this competition, a bit uneasy. Instead of his usual panache, the uncertainty in his voice reveals that he's going to be gambling... pp. 348-9

And so James Maguire, a journalist and wonderful story-teller, keeps me turning page after page, chapter after chapter, desperate to find out who will win the 2005 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

It is no small deal. As Maguire carefully and entertainingly reveals the story behind the Bee, it takes on the importance of a kind of junior Super Bowl. Not only for the thousands of dollars in prize money, and the instant fame accorded the champion, as the final rounds are broadcast across America on ESPN. But for the extraordinary effort that these children put into the Bee, for months, more often years, to claw their way out of a pack of 10 million students onto a stage of just a handful of finalists.

And Maguire's account is as first hand as you could imagine. He interviews dozens and dozens of spellers, parents, and staff, and even spends time in the homes of top spellers, over three years! By the end of it, his face is just as familiar to the spellers as those of their judges.

Without this book it is unlikely I would have had an entire section of this website devoted to Spelling Bees, because I just didn't realize what a huge, important, and fascinating world this was.

This is the most thoroughly researched and riveting book about the culture of American spelling bees in existence. American Bee does for Spelling, what Word Freak did for Scrabble.

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