It’s mid-April, and bees are on my mind. This is both because I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Hosler, author of the delightful, information-packed graphic novel The Way of the Hive (HarperAlley, April 20), and because my own bees are beginning to buzz after a winter cooped up in their hives. I’m itching to start my season, as I’ve had to content myself with reading about bees instead of working with them for some months now. Happily, much of that reading has been terrific.
It’s been exciting to see more and more great books about bees published for children these past few years, though it’s depressing to realize that one of the reasons for this heightened interest is because bees are in peril. Nothing draws attention like a threat to our food supply, and books about bees have become a subset of recent titles on our fraying environment. (In fact, I took up beekeeping in part thanks to The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe, by Loree Griffin Burns with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz, a 2010 entry in the consistently excellent Scientists in the Field series. I like eating, so…why not?)
Lily Williams’ If Animals Disappeared series has been exploring the consequences of extinction. In If Bees Disappeared (Roaring Brook, March 16), she turns from charismatic megafauna to honeybees, laying out the distressing logic that follows from the title. If bees disappeared, then the fruits they pollinate would decline; without those fruits, bird populations would diminish dramatically; without the birds, the pests they eat would flourish; and so forth. Lush digital paintings depict flowering fields abuzz with bees and the imagined consequences before bringing the narrative around to hope and how we all can help.
Kids who want to help by taking up beekeeping will find a delightful ursine guide in Bruno the Beekeeper (Candlewick, March 23), by Czech author/illustrator Aneta Františka Holasová and translated by Andrew Lass. Facts about bees are interspersed with the tasks of a beekeeper’s year, so on one spread readers will learn about the metamorphosis of a queen and on the next they will be introduced to the components of a typical beehive. Readers who’ve never thought about bees in winter before may be surprised to see that Bruno listens to his hives with a stethoscope; beekeepers will envy his well-appointed bee shed.
With The Dance of the Bees (Cuento de Luz, April 15), author Fran Nuño and illustrator Zuzanna Celej add a touch of magic to their sweet meditation on one Japanese family’s relationship with bees. A girl and her grandmother walk the countryside as the latter imparts wisdom about these pollinators; years later, a bee leads the now-adult girl to a cairn that marks the spot where the late grandmother’s haiku notebook is buried. Less an exploration of bee science than a celebration of interdependence, this quiet book will leave readers thinking. Jon Brokenbrow translates from Spanish.
No survey of recent bee books is complete without a mention of Honeybee (Neal Porter/Holiday House, 2020), Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann’s magisterial—and Sibert Medal–winning—account of the life of one worker bee. Breathtaking oil paintings accompany a taut, poetic narrative that is scrupulously accurate and invests readers in its protagonist’s dark, mysterious world.
Whether any of these books turn young readers into young beekeepers is anyone’s guess. But even kids who prefer to keep their encounters with bees in two dimensions will come away from them with an appreciation for these weird and wonderful creatures who share our planet and on which we are so dependent.
Vicky Smith is a young readers’ editor.