How to Teach Little Bee

Little Bee, originally published in the UK as The Other Hand, examines the human side of illegal immigration from the perspective of a Nigerian girl, Little Bee, who is fleeing horrific violence. While teaching this novel, teachers may want to discuss why asylum-seekers have difficulty immigrating legally and the conditions of migrant detention centers.

Little Bee's village is a casualty of Nigeria's oil wars, in which ethnic groups, militants, the Nigerian government, and foreign oil companies fight for control of oil fields. A background lesson on these oil wars, the militants' motives, and the Nigerian government's response will help students contextualize the novel. This conflict will prompt discussion about globalization—how it allows goods and media to be available around the world and how it can harm people, especially those who live in developing countries.

Cleave's novel deals with difficult subject matter, including rape and torture; while these scenes are not depicted in graphic detail, teachers must consider the maturity of their students before assigning this book.


Little Bee has been living in a detention center in London for two years since she escaped Nigeria, but she has finally been released along with three other girls. She calls Andrew O’Rourke, whom she met on the beach in Nigeria years ago, and says she will come to his house. Andrew tells her to stay away, but she ignores him.

The story then shifts to the other narrator, Sarah O'Rourke, and her four-year-old son Charlie, who insists on wearing a Batman costume. Five days after Little Bee calls Andrew, he commits suicide. Sarah and Little Bee form a tentative friendship as they try to cope with Andrew's death, the violence that occurred on the beach, and Little Bee's hardships as she fled the conflict in Nigeria and snuck into the UK in an effort to gain asylum.

Little Bee

Little Bee


A topical novel about a young refugee from Nigeria and the British family with whom she seeks asylum, Little Bee will build your students' empathy for people across the globe living under the constant threat of violence and strife. This book is great for starting discussions about globalization and ways we can better protect the innocent — no matter where they're from.

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Content Warning

This novel contains profanity, adultery, suicide, murder, torture, and rape.

Objectives for Teaching Little Bee

  • Recognize the difficulties immigrants, particularly refugees, face when adjusting to a new culture.
  • Discuss how the alternating narration enhances the effect of Little Bee's and Sarah's intertwined lives.
  • Identify and analyze the meanings of symbols, including Sarah's amputated finger, the color gray, and the "bag full of lemon yellow."
  • Discuss how language can help people heal and form identities.
  • Understand the causes and effects of the conflict in the Niger Delta.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Dual Narrators
  • Flashback
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Hope — Little Bee and Sarah cling to hope as they continue Andrew's efforts to improve the situation in Nigeria and the treatment of immigrants held in detention centers.
  • Transformation — In Little Bee, many characters undergo transformations as they cope with traumatic events—Sarah has had her middle finger amputated, Charlie disguises himself as Batman, and Little Bee conceals her beauty while in the detention center.
  • Globalization — Men associated with foreign oil companies attack Little Bee's village and kill her sister. Little Bee then has difficulty getting into the UK and adjusting to the different culture because her Nigerian frames of reference do not translate well.

Key Facts

  • Length: 271 pages
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12


  • New York Times bestseller


A movie adaptation is in production, but no release date has been scheduled.

Your students will love:

  • Learning about Nigeria and topical matters such as conflict over oil and the treatment of asylum-seekers.
  • Little Bee's captivating voice and her ability to escape from and come to terms with the trauma she has endured.
  • The beautiful, flowing language.

Students may have problems with:

  • The violence, including mentions of rape and torture and implied cannibalism.
  • The chapters from Sarah's point of view—some students may find Sarah selfish and less compelling than Little Bee is.

Available from Prestwick House:

Available Formats
Little Bee

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