It took Daphne three days to build the frames. She nailed all the pieces together herself. It was hard work, and she did hit her fingers with the hammer a few times, but she was so proud to see her finished frames.
“Good job, Daphne,” Her dad beamed at her. “Now you can paint the outside of the hive boxes!”
Daphne thought for a moment. “I want to paint bees and flowers on my boxes.”
She chose a lovely shade of green paint for her hive, then decorated it all over with hand-painted dandelions and bees. At last, her hive was ready to put up beside the other hives in the bee yard.
“When can I get some bees, Gramma?” asked Daphne.
“Very soon, my dear. We’ll plan for next weekend, and hope for a warm sunny, windless day. That’s the best weather to work with your bees.”
Within the honeycomb design endpapers of this delightful book, a curious young reader will find a wealth of details about beekeeping, learning as 10-year old Daphne does from her grandmother. For her birthday, Daphne is given all the equipment she needs: a bee suit, a set of beekeeping tools, and the pieces she needs to assemble into hives. Her enthusiasm shows as she gets busy building brood boxes and frames, then places the boxes in Gramma’s bee yard. Through the summer, Daphne works alongside Gramma and watches her hive develop into a colony. She learns how to stay calm around the bees, how to save the hive from an invasion of wasps and how to prepare the hive for overwintering. She’s rewarded with a first taste of honey from her very own bees, and she’s left eagerly anticipating the coming of spring in her Newfoundland home (the setting shown in an appealing double-spread on the title page).
The facts about beekeeping are presented clearly, step-by-step, in a friendly writing style accessible for the target age. The font is a comfortable size, and the lines are well-spaced for easy reading. Lots of explanations are included, e.g. that honeycomb cells always have six sides because a hexagon “is the strongest shape in nature...to support all the honey and baby bees.” When you read that nurse bees make sure egg cells get royal jelly, the question that comes to mind immediately is the same as Daphne’s—what is royal jelly? Gramma is right there with the answer. In a couple of spots the pages are packed with details (e.g. when Gramma talks at length about the queen bee) and Daphne rather disappears for a while. A little dialogue there would break up the longish paragraphs and remind readers of Daphne’s central role.
Woven through the story is an attitude of respect for the bees, their amazing work and the environment that supports them, as well as the close connection between family generations. When Daphne stands in the path of the bees returning to their hive and gets stung on the hand, Gramma calmly explains her mistake and applies ice to the sting. By the time Daphne wraps the hives for winter, readers will feel like they have spent the summer alongside her, happily absorbing each detail of the beekeeping process.
But, if readers missed anything, seven additional sections at the end of the book review the pertinent information in list form about: the queen, workers, drones, stingers, native bees, how to help bees thrive in readers’ gardens. A “Glossary” takes care of any definitions that may still be unclear. Finally, a couple of cute riddles leave readers with a favorable outlook towards bees.
Daphne’s Bees is illustrated in a free-flowing, whimsical style with soft colours and plenty of active bees, all against a backdrop of seasonal changes in the countryside. Drawings give closeups of life cycle stages, worker bee jobs, and the bees’ waggle dance for communication. When Daphne sips tea with honey on a winter day, of course, readers would expect to see a bird feeder hanging outside her window.
There’s lots of food for thought in this story of a key agricultural activity in the familiar setting of a home garden, with in-depth detail to stimulate interest and new learning for young readers.
Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in British Columbia.