If we are fortunate we will hear them before we see them or before we accidently step on one. Most of them are only a half inch long (about the size of a paperclip), so they will use their defenses when necessary. In most encounters they are not aggressive, allowing us to watch them conduct their work of gathering nectar and pollen. We rely on them to help supply our planet with food. In North America they enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops.
In addition to their pollination potential studies show they can be trained to smell certain cancers and to assist in the killing of cancer cells. As small as honey bees are, their impact on our lives now and in the future is huge. Their larger insect relative, the bumblebee, although not a producer of our honey, is highly valued as a pollinator. In her picture book debut as both an author and an illustrator, Alison Jay brings us a memorable tale, Bee-&-Me: A Story About Friendship (Old Barn Books, April 7, 2016) sparked by a personal unexpected experience. This story without words is a contemporary fable with a lasting message.
We begin with a wide view of a city scene, as if we are flying above the busy street lined with buildings on either side. A bee loop de loops into an open window. Needless to say, it startles a girl reading on her bed.
Finally captured in an upside-down glass, the bee collapses. Concerned the girl looks up the care of bees, revives it with some sugar water and releases it. A thunderstorm rages through the city that night and into the next morning. Guess who lands on the girl's window sill looking bedraggled?
Under her care, the bee flourishes, joins in her fun and games and grows and grows. It is soon taller than the little girl. As fall descends on the city, the bee seems preoccupied. It asks the girl for help. A plan with a purpose is put into action.
As a new day dawns the duo completes their mission with no one but us aware of their endeavors. Knowing winter is fast approaching the bee leaves. Spring showers and warmth reveal an unprecedented beauty throughout the city and in several particular dwellers.
Whether it was destiny or an accident, the arrival of the bee in Alison Jay's studio ignited a story in this nature lover's heart. From her pen the concept is one of the value of caring for those smaller and in need. As the bee grows, so does the friendship, blossoming into a shared desire to make their world a better place.
Rendered alkyd oil paints all the images beginning with the matching dust jacket and book case are replete with intricate elements. When you open the jacket and case the city scene extends over the spine to the left with a river winding through rolling hills in the countryside. A curious, smiling sun rises, lighting up the sky and giving the clouds a golden glow. The seeds framing the illustration hint at the work of the two friends as do their actions on the front.
On a delicate blue canvas the opening and closing endpapers feature flowers and leaves looking as though they have been pressed in preservation. In an oval beneath the title text the girl is riding the bee, her hand outstretched tossing seeds. Jay shifts her picture sizes from two-page visuals, edge to edge, to single page or multiple illustrations on a single page.
These smaller pictures are loosely framed as squares, circles, or rectangles. A group of smaller images of the same shape and size provide pacing and the passage of time. At one point seventeen tiny pictures across two pages illustrate the shared experiences of the bee and the little girl. There are several times when a picture will be placed in a larger white space, defining a specific moment.
What are really intriguing about all these illustrations is the stories with the larger story. Careful readers will notice the connection made between the girl and a boy in her apartment building. It is also fun to watch some of the people residing in the neighborhood and their accomplishments, especially the pastry chef. Each visual is vibrant and full of life. You need to stop and look at each one to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of this book.
One of my many favorite illustrations is of the bee returning during the rain storm. The one-page picture is looking through the girl's window, the left side framed by her blue curtain with white daisies on it. The bee, dripping puddles of water, stands on the sill, arms upraised in a plea for help. It's equally enjoyable to look in the other windows (behind the bee in buildings) to see what the residents are doing. Some of them are outside braving the weather.
Bee-&-Me: A Story About Friendship conceived and illustrated by Alison Jay is a heartwarming tale of compassion for each other and our world. We learn along with the girl the value of every single living thing. We can see how caring encourages growth. After the final image, Alison Jay includes a Bee Aware! page listing things to do to help bees and provide them protection and preservation.
To learn more about Alison Jay and her work follow the link attached to her name. This title is one of the CILIP Greenaway Medal nominations for 2017. At Writing and Illustrating by Kathy Temean, Alison Jay is a featured artist. It's a wonderful interview with process information and loads of illustrations. Playing by the book highlights this title and offers activities. Walker Books Classroom offers Classroom Ideas.