Many books about bees and beekeeping written for children look at these fascinating insects from the outside. Hannah and the Honey Bees is different in that here we see a child’s eye view of the inside of a colony.
Eight-year-old Hannah starts to help her grandfather look after his bees and is immediately fascinated by them. Resting in the orchard, she suddenly finds that she has shrunk and is actually in the beehive among the bees. While most ignore her, one young bee befriends her. Her name is Two Thousand and Three (well, how many names can you think up for all the bees in a thriving colony?) but this is soon shortened to Tweeny. Hannah learns things about the brood during her visit and surprises her grandfather with her new knowledge the next time she helps him with the hive.
She continues to help her grandfather during the summer holidays, going with him to inspect the colonies and remove and extract the honey crop.
In Hannah’s subsequent visits to the colony, she learns about drones, about honey and pollen, and about how the colony operates. She meets the queen and is present as the colony prepares to swarm. She asks if the bees are sorry to lose their queen but is told that they are glad she has left because she was bad tempered. The new queen is much nicer and friendlier and welcomes Hannah on her visits. Hannah’s ‘insider knowledge’ gained while helping her grandfather enables her to help the colony when it is put in peril and makes her a heroine to her friends.
This is a very readable and enjoyable story with delightful illustrations by Terry Gable. It is good to see that considerable efforts have gone into ensuring that the information both about the bees and the beekeeping is accurate. This is a fantasy but a realistic one which will both enthral and interest younger readers. However, there is no reason why older readers should not get just as much enjoyment from it. This review is an adult’s view of the book. However, it is written primarily for children so look out for a review from Ros Ellis in next month’s ‘B’ Kids to find out how she enjoyed it.
Bee Craft Ltd, 2011. £9.00. ISBN: 978-0-900147-11-1 (softback)
The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus
We have been made painfully aware of the problems facing the honey bee. Ever since 2006 when Dave Hackenberg found the majority of his hives empty, scientists and beekeepers have been searching for the cause of what is now known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). I first picked up this book with some trepidation as I expected to find another story of doom and gloom, of dead bees, pesticides, diseases and unexplained losses. However, I was wrong. Although the author does relate these things, her story is based around the life of a commercial beekeeper, John Miller. She spent time with Miller over several years, travelling round the country to his apiaries and moving with him as he drove his hundreds of hives thousands of miles to pollinate almonds and other crops.
What Hannah Nordhaus does is to present a revealing account of the life of a commercial beekeeper in the USA. She relates how his family got into beekeeping and how his great-grandfather, NE Miller, became the first American commercial beekeeper to move hives on an industrial scale, using the railroads to transport them from state to state to take advantage of the shifting honey flows. She tells of John Miller’s encounter with acarine in the 1980s and varroa in the early 1990s which both threatened to put him out of business. To make a living, commercial beekeepers must move their colonies from one state to another over vast distances and, ironically, this is what spread the mites from area to area so quickly.
The author’s account of the almond groves in California is both interesting and chilling. Acres of orchards with absolutely no other forage available for the 1.5 million colonies of bees that are trucked to the area. Bees expected forage when, in their natural cycle, they would be clustering within their hives. This is unnatural as far as the bees are concerned and the beekeepers know it. However, their dilemma is that if they don’t go to the almonds, their income will suffer and their businesses become unviable. It is a difficult situation to which there doesn’t appear to be a satisfactory answer. America’s commercial beekeepers are still beset with problems. If it isn’t disease or pesticides, it’s the weather or pests. However, there is something about beekeepers. Somehow, in spite of all the problems, they are optimists. There is always next year!
This is a very readable book giving a fascinating insight into the life of the large-scale beekeeper who is struggling to carry on because he loves his bees. I recommend it to you.
Harper Perennial, 2011. £8.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-187325-6 (softback).