The Picture Book Buzz

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

February 7, 2020

Boy nonfiction had changed over this past generation. I would have been in heaven, and you probably couldn't have pried me from the library, if books like Growing Up Gorilla: How a Zoo Baby Brought Her Family Together by Clare Hodgson Meeker, Giant Squid by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann, or Counting Birds by Heidi EY Stemple, illustrated by Clover Robin had existed. 

 

Even in the past five or six years we've seen an explosion, not just of nonfiction, but of unique, unusual, and entertaining nonfiction. Authors and illustrators pushing the boundaries, exploring ways to remain factual, yet entertaining. Such as Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Jessica Lanan, where the illustrator has interwoven a family's trip to a planetarium within the nonfiction text detailing the search for other planets. 

 

This week's #PPBF choice is an excellent example of an author/illustrator collaboration that makes nonfiction fun. That makes a honeybee matter to the reader. It puts the child in "the bee's wings," as it were, and encourages them to experience the short, important life of a honeybee. 

 

 

 

 

 

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

 

Author: Candace Fleming

 

Illustrator: Eric Rohmann

 

Publisher: Neal Porter Books (2020)

 

Ages: 6-9

 

Nonfiction

 

Themes:

Honeybees and nature 

 

Synopsis (from the publisher):

Get up close and personal with Apis, one honeybee, as she embarks on her journey through life, complete with exquisitely detailed illustrations.

Beginning at birth, the honeybee emerges through the wax cap of her cell and is driven to protect and take care of her hive. She cleans the nursery and feeds the larvae and the queen. But is she strong enough to fly? Not yet!

She builds wax comb to store honey, and transfers pollen from other bees into the storage. She defends the hive from invaders. Apis accomplishes all of this before beginning her life outdoors as an adventurer, seeking nectar to bring back to her hive.

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann describe the life cycle of the hard-working honeybee in this poetically written, thoroughly researched picture book, similar in form and concept to the Sibert and Orbis Pictus award book Giant Squid, complete with stunning gatefold and an essay on the plight of honeybees.

 

Opening Lines:

One summer deep in the nest, 

a brand-new honeybee

            squirms,

                  pushes,

                        chews

through the wax cap of her solitary cell and into . . .

a teeming, trembling flurry.

Hummmmm!

 

What I LOVED about this book:

What's not to love about that opening? Candace Fleming is a master at creating beautifully lyrical, poetic nonfiction. Top that off with the amazing, artistic ability of Eric Rohmann and how can you not love this new little bee? I mean, LOOK at that face! And the best part? These are just the END PAGES!

Text © Candace Fleming, 2020. Image © Eric Rohmann, 2020

 

The first page shows this sweet, furry, GREY bundle meeting her sisters, And we learn her name: "her scientific name is Apis mellifera, or Apis for short." Scientific and relatable. Afterall, many kids have, or give relatives, nicknames. In two pages, we've learned so many other scientific facts without realizing it - how a bee is born, that it begins grey, has a long tongue, and what the inside of a hive looks like.

Text © Candace Fleming, 2020. Image © Eric Rohmann, 2020

 

The book follows Apis as she eats, "darkens to a warm yellow orange," and strengthens her muscles. Candace creates tension by building in a call & answer type of refrain - is Apis strong enough for "flying? Not yet." This is sheer genius. After every new job Apis takes on - cleaning, working in the nursery, tending the queen, comb building, food handling and guarding the hive - (each one a double page spread) the question of flying is raised. The reader has to turn the page to see if THIS time Apis gets to fly. Each time the answer is "Not yet," and a new job is explained.

 

Until . . . the morning Apis turns 25 days-old, where we get a dramatic, two-page spread. The only one in the book. Which opens up, revealing a stunning, four-page gatefold and . . . 

Text © Candace Fleming, 2020. Image © Eric Rohmann, 2020

 

Eric and Candace continue Apis' story, from a bee's viewpoint, through her role as a gatherer. The stunning illustrations are interwoven with facts about pollination and honey, the number of flowers Apis visited, and the distances she travelled. Culminating in a touching and satisfying ending. The back matter includes a wonderfully labelled diagram of a honeybee, a call to action, and a "bit more buzz" about the statistics of the hive and its members. 

 

This book will appeal to the child who likes the expository facts of nonfiction books, as well as the one who loves books with more narrative story aspects. It's clear from the stunning detail of the gossamer wings and the whisper-fine hairs and the beautiful free verse, that this is a heart-felt ode to the honeybee and its role in our lives. 

 

Resources:

- plant bee friendly flowers, such as Mint, Sunflowers, Poppies, Black-eyed Susan, & Aster (https://birdwatchinghq.com/flowers-for-bees/);

- build a bee bath (https://experiencelife.com/article/how-to-make-a-bee-bath/);

- make bee finger puppets, egg carton bees, or bee masks (https://feltmagnet.com/crafts/bumblebee-art-and-crafts); or

- join with friends to write a letter to your congressman and ask them to ban bee-harmful pesticides and fund more research on bees.

 

If you missed the interview of Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann on Monday, find it (here).

 

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

 

 

 

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