Akeelah and the Bee (PG) is a widely acclaimed family-friendly film that everyone can enjoy. It is not only entertaining, in the very best sense of the word, it is a first-rate true story that should not be missed. How I missed it until now reveals that I didn’t think such a film would actually appeal to me, which probably tells you more about me than I should admit. But I was proven wrong, dead wrong!

This is an absorbing and happy story. An eleven-year old black girl, Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), an average and unmotivated student from Crenshaw Middle School in Los Angeles, learns to believe in her herself and to value genuine intelligence through a series of touching events that will move the viewer on a deeply personal level. Akeelah’s father was killed by a shooting when she was only six and she has been deeply scared by the trials that follow as her mother (Angela Bassett) seeks to hold the family together. Akeelah seems to fear peer rejection profoundly, as do most children, thus she runs away from appearing to be a bookworm before her friends. It takes a former professor, Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne plays this role beautifully), who lost a little girl of his own to a tragic death, to finally motivate Akeelah and then to coach her to success. He believes Akeelah has the brains and the talent to compete under pressure and to win. What he imparts to her is discipline and confidence. For months she prepares and then eventually makes it to the national finals in Washington, D.C.

I will not spoil the ending but even if you know the story’s outcome, and I did before I saw the film, the movie will fill you with great joy. It is more than brains than little Akeelah demonstrates in the end. She possesses a heart of love and of human tenderness that she develops through difficult circumstances while she also becomes a fierce and successful competitor. This combination of tenderness and toughness is what makes this movie work. See it. Watch it with your kids as well, especially if they are seven or eight years of age or older. There is much here to stir wonderful family conversation about culture, prejudice, family, virtue and hard work. In the end Akeelah and the Bee is a love story for the whole family to cherish.