Friday, June 25, 2021

B-C-D-E... What if we Begin With a Bee?


Begin with a Bee 
by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, & Phyllis Root; illus. by Claudia McGehee 
40 pages; ages 4-9
Univ. Of Minnesota Press, 2021

theme: bees, life cycle, seasons

What’s inside this hole in the ground? One bee.

That bee is a rusty-patched bumble bee, and when she emerges from the ground, she will be ready to start her very own colony. She flies from flower to flower, sipping nectar and collecting pollen. She also searches for a place to raise her young: an old mouse burrow, a mole hole – underground is best. (Though I once discovered a bumble bee building a nest in a forgotten straw bale…)

Bumble bee nests are not like honey bee nests at all! Instead of building a waxy comb of cells, the bumble bee queen crafts wax pots for her eggs.

What I like about this book: I love the fun language. For example, when the eggs hatch:
Are they bees yet?
Little white grubs,
no eyes, no legs, 
eating machines.

photo by Ilona Loser, creative commons

When they go through the pupa stages: Now are they bees? In love the “are we there yet” questions. But finally – finally! – they are bees. And boy, do they have work to do. Clean the nest. Gather food. Care for larvae. Then bee season ends, and the bees die. Except for one bee, snugly hibernating in her hole. Next year’s queen that will start the cycle again.

I also love the illustrations – scratchboard art by Claudia McGehee. It looks like woodcut lines.
And, need I say, there is Back Matter! More information on the endangered rusty-patched bumble bee and a list of then things we can all do to Be a Friend to Bees.

Beyond the Books:

Get to know your local bumble bees. They are usually so intent on collecting pollen that they won’t notice you, so you can get close enough to get a good look. If you have a camera, click bee pics so you can identify them later. Make sure to jot down notes: How big is this bumble bee? What colors of stripes does it have? What time of day is it – some bumble bees are early risers, some work later? 

Follow a bumble bee around. What color of flowers does she visit? How long does she stay on one flower? If you have a watch with a second hand, you can time her. How many flowers does she visit before she flies away home? And are they close together or in a line?

Try writing a story about your bumble bees with a friend or two. Begin with a Bee was written by three authors. “Writing is most often a solitary act,” Jacqueline Briggs Martin wrote on her blog. “We sit with paper and pencil, or computer, by ourselves, and build a story word by word, tear it down, build it again. But there is another kind of writing—collaboration—when we work with friends to create a story that is richer, more textured than what one writer alone might do.” You can read more here.

Draw a picture of one of the bumble bees that visits flowers in your neighborhood. Then check out this video in which Claudia talks about her process in illustrating Begin with a Bee (a 15-minute segment). She did a lot of research, and was surprised to learn just how different bumble bees are from honey bees. She even discovered a rusty-patched bumble bee in her own garden!
Check out this activity workbook (maze, coloring pages, and more) from the publisher.

Some resources for curious bumble bee watchers:
Great Sunflower Project ~
Xerces Society ~

We'll join Perfect Picture Book Friday when it resumes. PPBF is an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.


  1. You always find the most amazing books. This one looks beautiful. I will be checking it out. Thanks for the heads up.

    1. Hi Rosi, I don't remember how I came across this book. I think someone mentioned it, and I thought, "must have for pollinator week!"