Several summers ago, honey bees swarmed by the hundreds gathering goodness from flowers on a particular set of bushes towering along one side of my deck. They allowed me to get close enough with my camera to capture the golden pollen on their legs. Watching them for hours was like a gift from Mother Nature.
In the following years the bees have diminished in great numbers. Thankfully there are keepers of bees like Don Snoeyink of Thornapple Woodlands dedicated to their care. In his presentation at our summer reading program he fascinated us with facts about these essential creatures. (A queen can lay more than 2,000 eggs a day in the summer!) When we learn about these marvels of the insect world on a personal level, our respect and desire to assist in the quality of their lives grows. The King of Bees (Peachtree Publishers, April 1, 2018) written by Lester L. Laminack with illustrations by Jim LaMarche allows us to see their value by leaving a mark on our hearts.
Henry and Aunt Lilla lived deep in the Lowcountry, where South Carolina reaches out and mingles with the saltwater to form tidal creeks and marshes. Sometimes Henry felt like the whole world ended at the far edge of that water.
Included in the landscape of Henry's world beyond his home, the garden, hen house and shed were beehives. For the bees Henry felt a genuine affection. He longed to help his Aunt with the bees. She finally agreed he could watch her work. Clothed in her bee suit, wearing her hat with a net and keeping the smoker nearby, she spoke softly to them.
Their buzzing was not a reply to her words but a sign of them working. They danced when they had news to share. It was the sister bees doing all the work. Only a few boy bees, drones, were needed to help the queen make more bees.
No amount of begging changed Aunt Lilla's mind about Henry working with the bees. He knew from past experiences patience on his part was important but one morning he went to the shed to look over the beekeeping items. As he looked at each thing, especially the suit, he imagined talking to the bees.
Finding his Aunt in the garden they chatted about the queen, sister bee workers and the brother bees. Henry was determined to help the sister bees. He even practiced dancing around the bees telling them about a clover patch. Can you guess what Henry saw among those flowers the next day?
One day unusually activity at the hives caused Aunt Lilla to leave on an errand. Henry wanted to help too. Doing what he had never done before now, Henry bravely spoke without words and danced. What happened next is a story worth telling so all ears can hear it for years and years.
When Lester L. Laminack tells us a tale he brings us deep into the place and time with his lovely descriptions. He enriches us with the personalities of his characters through the conversations they share. In them we see the best people have to offer to each other. In this particular narrative he strengthens our connection to nature through the bees. Every living thing is integral to keeping balance. Here are two adjoining passages on separate pages.
His eyes came to rest on the bee suit. He
was certain there was something magic about
it. He just knew if he had one of his own he
could get closer to the hives and bee-talk like
Henry left the shed and found
Aunt Lilla in the garden. "How come
the brother bees don't help their
sisters?" he asked. "Can't the king
bee make them do some of the work?"
As soon as you see the face of the boy on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, you are intrigued by his hat, the net and the bees. Is he the king of bees? If he is, what makes him the king? As your eyes move across the spine to the left a field of flowers is spread before you. A low tree (shrub) line is behind them. Two bee hives are in the field. The soft earth and pastel tones used by illustrator Jim LaMarche draw us into this peaceful scene. The title is embossed in foil.
On the opening and closing endpapers we are presented with a bird's eye view of Henry and Aunt Lilla's property bordered by water on two sides. With a page turn at the beginning we see a close-up of clover and daisies with bees humming among the blossoms. The sky is awash in breathtaking shades of blue with a few clouds. On the title page a hive is placed beneath the title text. Bees swarm from the hive on this page and across the gutter to the left on the verso page.
Each two-page picture rendered in ink and watercolor by Jim LaMarche is a beautiful and loving moment frozen in time. We are transported to South Carolina in the summer season. We can feel the humidity in the air, hear the soft murmur of the water and the call of birds. More importantly we hear the humming of the sister bees.
Jim LaMarche alters his perspective to heighten our involvement in the story and to accent the pacing. Several times he brings us close to Henry. Other times we are looking at a setting from above or as a landscape. Mr. LaMarche's artwork is nearly photographic in its details but softened by the medium.
One of my many favorite illustrations is when we are reading about Henry's need for patience in working with the bees. A past experience in the hen house is shared with readers. We zoom in on Henry carrying three eggs in his hands raised up to his face. A fourth egg is under his chin. A fifth egg is tumbling to the straw. Behind him in glowing hues three hens sit on their nests in their boxes. The light and shadow and colors on Henry's face are gorgeous. And many of us have held the same expression on our faces as appears on his.
A gentle story, The King of Bees written by Lester L. Laminack with illustrations by Jim LaMarche, is for one-on-one reading or reading to a group. It speaks to the love of family and of nature. In an author's note Lester L. Laminack talks about the premise for this book and his lifelong attraction to bees. You could pair this with Bee-&-Me: A Story About Friendship Old Barn Books, April 7, 2016 written and illustrated by Alison Jay, Please Please the Bees Albert Whitman and Company, April 11, 2017 written and illustrated by Gerald Kelley and The Honeybee Atheneum Books For Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, May 8, 2018 written by Kirsten Hall with illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault.
To learn more about Lester L. Laminack and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. At the publisher's website you can view an excerpt, a printable poster and additional resources. Here is a teacher's guide they created. The cover is revealed by Lester L. Laminack at the Nerdy Book Club. At November Picture Book Month Lester L. Laminack talks in an essay about the importance of picture books.