Sometimes the life of a single being is so glorious, it takes your breath away. The more you know about the days of their life, the more your admiration and respect increases. You realize every moment of the hours of their existence is orchestrated for a greater good. It's about survival not only for them, but for every other living being.
As humans, the more we take notice of the value of these beings, the better able we are to protect and preserve their place in our natural world. Upon the first reading (and every reading thereafter) of Honeybee: The Busy Life Of Apis Mellifera (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, February 4, 2020) written by Candace Fleming with art by Eric Rohmann, readers find themselves immersed in the life of a valued member of the hive, a female worker bee. We are there for every day of her life and we are humbled by her accomplishments.
One summer morning deep in the nest,
a brand-new honeybee
through the wax cap of her solitary cell and into . . .
a teeming, trembling flurry.
This new arrival, Apis Mellifera, is tended by another older bee. She then feasts on pollen stored in a cell. Her color gradually shifts from gray to golden yellow. Her strength increases but not enough for flying.
Each day of her new life is chronicled in an engaging, factual and lyrical narrative. She is first a caretaker of the nursery, cleaning it and nurturing the larvae. By now Apis Mellifera is eight days old and still not able to fly from the hive.
In each stage of her life differences in her body prepare her for new tasks. She helps others care for the queen who lays thousands of eggs per day, one egg per cell. By day fifteen Apis Mellifera has finished another designated task, but she is still not allowed to fly from the hive. From cell building she moves to maker of honey. She takes nectar and works with it, and places it into an awaiting cell.
Now at day eighteen she moves to the opening of the hive. Here she will guard their home from invaders like bears, birds or other bees. A honeybee can only use her stinger once. It results in death. This time, on this day, she is successful in thwarting the endeavors of another bee.
Do you know how many days pass before Apis Mellifera can leave the hive? When she finally does, you will cheer for her and her companions as they search for individual items, water, propolis, pollen and nectar. Our Apis Mellifera is seeking nectar. When she finds it, we read about every move she makes until she goes back to the hive.
There she communicates her discovery through dance and makes numerous trips until sunset when she pauses. As the days of summer pass, Apis Mellifera ages. Her remarkable performance comes to a close, after flying more miles to more flowers than you can imagine. But back at her home, in a cell . . .
Author Candace Fleming begins her narrative prior to the title page. Her words as noted above bring us directly into the life of the new honeybee. Each subsequent page turn completely engages us with an accounting of the honeybee's days. Her word selections appeal to our sensory perceptions. Her verbs and adjectives depict a world unlike our own, but she adeptly connects us to the activities of this female worker, Apis Mellifera.
Each task performed by Apis Mellifera, prior to her leaving the hive, is connected with the word flying. This builds a gentle tension until she is able to leave, gather nectar and function in her mission to assist in the making of honey. We are with her every beat of her wings. Here is a portion of a longer passage.
She circles down.
She alights on a blossom.
She scrabbles over its petals, searching for nectar inside.
Poking her long tongue deep inside the flower,
she sips and swallows,
and skips to the next flower.
The sugary fluid does not go into her belly.
It goes into a special sac called a honey stomach.
This is how Apis will carry her nectar home.
As she visits each flower, grains of pollen stick
to her brushy body.
They cling to her bristly legs.
She carries this pollen
from flower to flower,
brushing it off,
picking it up,
pollinating the field.
The larger-than-life portrait of the Apis Mellifera, Apis, as shown on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, resting on the top of a coneflower is stunning, absolutely stunning. We are seeing what she sees. The colors, rich and vibrant, complement each other in striking beauty. The sky extends over the spine to reveal a scene of rolling green hills. Along the bottom is a field of flowers in lavender and yellow. Both the jacket and case are varnished, glossy.
On the opening and closing endpapers the color is the deep purple from the title text on the front of the jacket and case. Rendered in oil paint on paper by Eric Rohmann, the illustrations are a breathtaking display of the world of Apis from her perspective. Prior to the title page we are very close to her coming from the cell, watching as she breaks free from its confines. We move a bit farther back with the next double-page picture. She is half-way outside the cell. When we next turn to the title page, she is still there in that position, but we've pulled back more to see all the activity in the hive around her.
Each of the two-page visuals throughout the remainder of the book are highly detailed representations. Light and shadow are used masterfully. As the tasks Apis completes bring her closer to the entrance to the hive and her first flight outside, more light comes into the images. You'll feel as though you are either next to Apis or another honeybee in this hive.
When she is at the opening of the hive, ready to leave, you'll be holding your breath . . . guaranteed. Then a gorgeous four-page gatefold celebrates her flight with a single word, Flies! Here in this scene, and in numerous other illustrations, Eric Rohmann shifts the point of view to increase our emotional involvement.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Apis is poised at the entrance to the hive prior to her first flight. The opening is irregular in shape, covering most of the right side, crossing the gutter and a small half circle on the left. Leaves frame some of the opening edges. The sky shown is the palest of purple changing to golden at the bottom. It's dawn. Some stars can still be seen. On either side of our Apis are other honeybees, ready to begin their jobs for the day. On the right we can see dark antennae and some heads. On the left are three other bees with varying portions of their bodies visible.
Honeybee: The Busy Life Of Apis Mellifera written by Candace Fleming with illustrations by Eric Rohmann is a marvelous study in words and artwork of the female worker honeybee. At the close of the book across two pages on a background of golden orange is a black and white large image of Apis Mellifera with her parts labeled and thorough explanations for each of those parts. Following this are two pages with sections titled: Helping Out Honeybees, A Bit More Buzz, Buzzing Around Online and More Books About Bees. I highly recommend this title for all collections, both personal and professional.
To discover more about Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. Candace Fleming has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. At Penguin Random House you can get a peek at the first two pages.
Update: Author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson showcases this book with her review and process art from Eric Rohmann at her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Be sure to visit. February 6, 2020
Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2020 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.