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Monday, August 22, 2011

The Honeybee Man, written by Lela Nargi and illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2011. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"Near the edge of the roof is another, tiny city. It has three houses, each with two white stories and one red story, and inside, thousands of tiny rooms made of wax. From the outside, the tiny city also seems quiet."

It was coincidental that on the same day I read this book I heard a news report about the concern in Manitoba over the future of the honey business here. Millions of bees died last winter and in this year alone more than 27,000 colonies have been lost. Is it a virus? A parasite? A late fall which left the bees unprepared for our cold winter? Whatever it is, it has our bee farmers concerned for the future.

As scientists ponder the Colony Collapse Disorder that has killed millions of bees since 2006, it is reassuring to read this story about Fred and his rooftop apiary. We go with him as he checks his hives, sips his tea and thinks about the sweet treat that his bees are preparing for him. He has great admiration for all of those bees...the young ones as they make their first flights, the older ones as they make familiar trips away from the hive to collect nectar for their queen and her worker bees. It isn't long until he collects the honey, puts it in jars and shares it with family and friends.
The whole book shows the gentle love Fred has for the bees and their work:

"Inside their houses, the three queen bees and their thousands of worker bee daughters don't answer. But Fred knows they are busy. The queens are laying eggs. Some workers are building wax rooms, some are feeding babies, some are making the hive tidy. Others are getting ready to forage in flowers abloom all across Brooklyn."

I love watching this urban beekeeper as he savors the many familiar aspects of the work that his bees do daily. He notices everything about them...the weight of their bodies as they return from gathering nectar, their neverending cycle of work to produce honey for his use, and their honeycombs that offer up golden goodness for the people of Brooklyn. It is a book for the senses, and a celebration of the community and its people...and bees!

The warm colors used by Kyrsten Brooker for her accompanying mixed media artwork add to the book's charm. The familiar Brooklyn scenes, the gentleness that is Fred fills the book. Her informative and detailed endpapers provide a clear look at the bees, their hives, the frame foundation, the flower and even their 'waggle dance'. Clear captions give us all the information needed to understand the process. Then, just in case we don't have enough information, the author adds 'some amazing facts about honey, honeybees and beekeepers'.

On her website Lela Nargi describes the inspiration for her story:

"John Howe, for years an apiarist in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and the founder of the NYC Beekeeping meet-up, was the heart and brains behind Fred. He told me almost everything I know about honeybees and even introduced me to his hives. Even though until March 2010, it was illegal to keep honeybees and other "wild animals" in New York City. Now, almost everyone seems to have gone crazy for urban bees and honey!"

What an informative and inspiring book!

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