Secrets of the Honey Bee

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Many of you will know that I have long loved bees – one of my very first posts on this blog was ‘Books About Bees’ and I have done a plethora of posts and reviews since. I have an entire shelf dedicated to books about bees, I am ‘the beekeeper’ for our native bees at school and I have a collection of bee earrings which is, quite frankly, *embarrassing* but ever-growing. My love of bees has very little to do with The Beekeeper, but this is an added bonus of course.

So it was with much anticipation that I read ‘The Very Clever Bee‘ by Felicity Marshall, the author and/or illustrator of a few personal favourites of mine, ‘Sage’s Ark’, ‘The Star’, ‘Hello, Honeybee’ and ‘You and Me, Murrawee’.

The Very Clever Bee is possibly the most comprehensive, informative and beautiful books I have seen on European honey bees and beekeeping aimed at a young audience (6 years to adult) … and this is saying something, given my collection of bee books. It’s Australian context has obvious appeal to me, but it is the melding of Marshall’s experience as a beekeeper, knowledge of the industry and her sophisticated writing and illustrations which makes this book a stand out. This is a book for young bee enthusiasts, students studying bees, life-cycles and agriculture and anyone with a keen interest in bees, honey, beeswax and the beekeeping industry.

The opening page has a pear, with the simple but striking line, ‘This pear would not exist without the honey bee’ – and she had me from this page.

It is my absolute delight to have Felicity Marshall join us here at Children’s Books Daily!

Thank you Felicity…

The first time I was stung by a bee I was seven years old. It was entirely my own fault, rolling around in a beautiful flowering field. The bee was innocent, and she died after stinging me – which is the bee’s fate.  I didn’t understand this at the time.

The first time I saw a swarm of bees I was ten years old. My eccentric father had built a five-metre tripod structure in our paddock to drill for water (none found). At the top was a fat cluster of moving bees. A local beekeeper gratefully collected the swarm and thanked us with a family of bantam hens and two jars of honey. A win-win outcome and a young girl intrigued.

 Many years later the young girl grew up and she became an artist and a beekeeper. In the beginning I approached beekeeping in a very romantic way, but after a few stings and a few swarms I soon realised how much work is involved and how much responsibility a beekeeper has to minimise swarming and to keep bees thriving. And how heavy full boxes of honey are! I have great arm muscles now – forget the gym! But I love being a beekeeper almost as much as I love being an artist.

I feel acutely the threats to our natural world by pollution, chemicals, land clearing and ultimately by human greed and ignorance. I am passionately committed to eliminating waste and pollution, to sustainable and caring environmental practices and regenerative agriculture. I have an organic vegetable garden, fruit trees and bees in my back yard.

The Very Clever Bee‘ is my contribution to the education of children about the vital importance of bees and other pollinators to the survival of life on planet earth. Children are our future scientists, policy makers and earth custodians. What can be more important than educating them? David Attenborough, can you hear me? (Yes, he is my hero!). When my previous fictional picture book ‘Hello, Honeybee’ was released I was nagged non-stop by eager children wanting real facts about bees. I realised that as a beekeeper and children’s author/illustrator I was in a unique position to fulfil that need. And now they can read the book and give me a rest from their heckling, yes? No, I still get curly questions. Is there a king bee? (No.) Does the queen bee marry just one of the drones? (Er … no.) Do bees have a better sense of smell than dogs? (Yes, 50 times better.) Nature is humble. Think of the earthworm – vital to composting and soil quality. The dung beetle (what a champ!) And the flower pollinators who are the quiet, hard-working labourers ensuring that fruiting and reproduction continue. The honey bees are the heroines of them all. And yet most of us are oblivious to their constant industry.

The queen bee is no diva! Her life is one of drudgery – she mates once and spends the rest of her life laying thousands of eggs until the colony decides her time is up. Then she is despatched. A drone is unceremoniously kicked out at the end of summer too, that is if he hasn’t died after queen mating. Nature is pragmatic. Foraging bees have much more fun flying around and visiting flowers all day during their short lives.

‘Hello, Honeybee’ draws a comparison between the life of the Big Queen and the tiny queen bee. Both are kept in their homes with attendees to provide food, safety and grooming and both agree that it is hard being a queen.

I paint landscapes, still life, portraits and create children’s books in my studio at home on the Victorian Surf Coast. I love the ocean, the mountains, bush walks, everything in nature. Its beauty and its harshness constantly inspire my painting. The great Dutch painter Rembrandt said , ‘Have only one master – nature’ (shouldn’t that be mistress?).

There are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide. Some that only pollinate one type of flower, some that make homes out of beautifully sewn leaves and some that are so tiny that they are easily missed. My favourite bee is an Australian native bee – the Blue-Banded bee, a solitary bee that pollinates by banging its head on flowers for up to 350 times a second!

This dear little head-banger bee is a metaphor for every beekeeper and environmentalist who feels they are banging their head against a brick wall. But nature is persistent and so must we be.

My wish is that ‘The Very Clever Bee‘ helps children, parents, teachers and librarians to discover the secrets of honey bees and to become aware of their peril and ultimately incorporate this newfound understanding and respect in their own roles as future custodians and educators.

Ruby Olive Megan Pink Jacket and Who Am I Book

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  1. Julia Wakefield on Mar 26, 2021 at 11:52 am

    I came across your blog by chance when I was researching information about picture books to help improve my own projects as an author/illustrator. I was quite astonished when I discovered you are a bit of a beeophile – and have partnered up with a beekeeper! My husband and I have recently acquired a swarm from a neighbour’s property, and for the first time we are employing a top bar hive system, gradually shifting away from Langstroth frames to eventually convert to a Layens hive – as soon as Graham has built it! Having had previous unsatisfactory experiences with Langstroth hives, we are very excited about the new bee-friendly system, and we are hoping our grandchildren will become equally intrigued. So I was very interested to see your review of Felicity Marshall’s book, and I’m also researching as many children’s books about bees as I can find. One absolutely enchanting one is The Book of Bees by Piotr Sacha. I couldn’t find Felicity’s books in the book depository so I’ve ordered both from the library. I’ve just started keeping my own blog about our bees: – it’s wonderful how many people I’m now coming across who share this passion, and the numbers are rapidly growing!

    • Megan Daley on Mar 26, 2021 at 3:20 pm

      It’s SUCH a fascinating passion to have! Love your blog!

  2. Felicity Marshall on Mar 26, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    Hi Megan

    Thank you so much for writing such a fabulous review of The Very Clever Bee, for mentioning my earlier publications and for inviting me to do a guest blog. I loved writing the book even though I was quite exhausted at the end. I learned new things about bees too while doing extensive research. The topic of bees is downright encyclopaedic! I culled a lot from the book as the page count was getting out of hand!
    Very warmest wishes, Felicity

    • Megan Daley on Mar 26, 2021 at 3:20 pm

      I can see how well researched it is and I loved it for this!!!

  3. Susanne Gervay on Mar 26, 2021 at 3:10 pm

    Love this article and the insights into bees

    • Megan Daley on Mar 26, 2021 at 3:19 pm

      It’s lovely isn’t it! Megan

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