About the Holiday
Why do we celebrate bees and honey during National Blueberry Month? Because—as Fred, the beekeeper in today’s book knows—the fragrant blossoms on blueberry bushes provide nectar that bees make into some of the most complex, sweet, and delicious honey around. If you’re lucky enough to find blueberry honey on your grocery store shelves—or even better, at your local farmers market—don’t hesitate to try it! While you’re at it, grab some plump, delectable blueberries and make blueberry pancakes to put that honey on!
The Honeybee Man
Written by Lela Nargi | Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
At dawn on a July morning, Fred awakens to begin his day with his “enormous” family. His morning routine consists of a cup of tea and a climb back upstairs and through a hatch in the ceiling that takes him to the roof. “All around is quiet Brooklyn city—brownstones and linden trees, a tall clock tower, and bridges in the distance.” But nearby is another, tiny city. It consists of only three houses, but inside are “thousands of tiny rooms made of wax.”
The summer morning smells of “maple leave and gasoline and the river and dust. He turns to the tiny city and inhales its smaller, sweeter smell—a little like caramel, a little like ripe peaches.” He bends down to the three houses to wake their residents. “‘Good morning, Queen Mab. Good morning, Queen Nefertiti. Good morning, Queen Boadicea,’” he calls before greeting the rest of his family: “‘Good morning, my bees, my darlings!’”
Inside the houses the bees are busy. The queens are laying eggs while the workers build wax rooms, nurse bees feed the babies, and others are getting ready to find fields of flowers for nectar. Fred dreams of the marvelous flowers the bees may find to flavor their honey. He imagines the bees flying low over the flowers moving among them and wishes he could soar with them too.
Fred watches the young bees uncertainly leave the hive and swirl off into the air. The older bees “zip out of the hives and throw themselves at the air, embracing it with their wings.” When a few land on Fred’s arm, he gently flicks them on their way. He spies on them from his rooftop as they disperse into his backyard garden, other neighborhood gardens, and perhaps, if Fred is lucky, to “blueberry bushes somewhere across town.” He sees the bees “dive into sweet pea and squash flowers. If he were closer, he could see them using their tubelike tongues to drink in flower nectar, which they store in honey sacs inside their bellies.”
The bees fly slowly home weighted down with their treasure. Fred knows that inside the hive the bees will go to work, some will do the waggle dance that tells other bees where the flowers are, some will take the nectar and store it in the wax rooms, and others will fan “their wings to evaporate the water from the nectar so it will turn to honey.”
At the end of August Fred knows it’s time to collect the honey. He carefully enters the tiny houses, removing the honeycomb from the top. In his own home he cuts the wax caps of the comb and the honey begins to flow. A special spinning machine squeezes every drop from the honeycomb. He pours the honey into jars and labels them “Fred’s Brooklyn Honey, Made by Tireless Brooklyn Bees.” In the evening Fred sits on his stoop chatting with the neighbors. He gives each a jar of golden honey.
As night falls Fred opens a jar of honey as the bees huddle “back in their own city, waiting for the rays of tomorrow’s sun to call them up and away over Brooklyn.” Fred dips a finger into the honey and tastes. “It is sweet, like linden flowers. It is sharp, like rosemary. It is ever-so-slightly sour. “‘Ah,’ says Fred, absorbing these happy flavors. ‘Blueberries!’”
Lela Nargi’s lovely city-based nature book brilliantly likens the tightly packed, exhilarating environs of Brooklyn to the stirring realm of the beehive. Through Fred’s love of his bee family, Nargi lyrically and with marvelous metaphors and verbs reveals the fascinating world of bees as well as the rich and satisfying life of one particular beekeeper. Readers organically learn fascinating facts about the ways bees collect nectar and transform it into delicious honey as well as why honey can have so many flavors.
In her gorgeous illustrations, Kyrsten Brooker uses the golden hues of honey to paint not only the beehive but Brooklyn as well, giving the two “cities” a sense of cohesiveness and equality. Fred, older, with his cup of tea and blue slippers is shown gently and lovingly taking care of his bees, even as he still has their spirit of adventure. Brooker’s combination of oils and collage fuse the dreamy quality of the text with the concreteness of its facts to create a unique book that would be perfect for quiet story times, rainy afternoons, or bedtime.
If there is such a thing as a child’s nature cozy, The Honeybee Man is it. The book would make a wonderful gift and a delightful addition to any child’s or classroom library.
The endpapers provide detailed diagrams of the various types of bees, beehives, flowers, the waggle dance, and even a bee’s stinger. Nature lovers will relish the two pages of “amazing facts about honey, honeybees, and beekeepers” that follow the story.
Ages 5 – 10
Schwartz & Wade, 2011 | ISBN 978-0375849800
You can find books for children, articles for adults, and so much more on Lela Nargi’s website!
To learn more about Kyrsten Brooker, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Blueberry Month Activity
Busy Buzzy Bee Maze
Can you help the little bee find her way through the maze to get to the flower and her friend?
The Honeybee Man can be found at these booksellers
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Picture Book Review