Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha. Abrams, 2017. 9781419726156. 80pp.
Gene: This book was originally published in Polish —
G: I bought this for my daughter, whose name is shortened to B.B. And yeah, those endpapers, looks like the inside of a perfectly laid out beehive, which is nifty, and the illustrations are just expletively great.
Apparently Poland produces great picture books, because there’s that imprint, Big Picture Press, that publishes so many in English. (Welcome to Mamoko is one of my favorites. They also published Under Water, Under Earth.) But I was wowed by this book so had to buy it for her.
S: It’s cartoony and cute!
G: Kinda. But there’s no black lines around the images, it’s more the style of pieces of color being used to create the pictures.
S: It looks like Mary Blair‘s work.
G: (It does.) Honeybees have been around for millions of years — they coexisted with the dinosaurs. This two-page spread describes what they were like, apparently they were more like wasps, before they started getting food from plants, and at that point they got hairier so it was easier to transport pollen.
(turning page) This is a huge and beautiful picture of a honeybee.
S: That is so great.
G: Queen, drone, and worker, in scale. Honeybees have four wings, which I hadn’t realized. And very gruesome looking horror mouth parts.
The basic layout of this book is there are two-page spreads with, across the bottom 1/10th, some bit of text about the images above. On the anatomy page there’s some content about that, including that their wings beat 230 times per second and that they can reach a speed of about 20 mph.
S: That’s pretty fast.
G: And why you can’t run away from a determined bee.
Here are pictures of the hive, doing different things in there, and how the workers raise a queen. And then a honeybee mating picture — they do it in the air, as the queen is trying to fly off to establish a new hive!
G: Most of the eggs are fertilized during this mating flight, and those become workers, or new queens if they’re fed royal jelly. Unfertilized eggs hatch in to drones.
G: There’s a little bit about the waggle dance, swarms — the image is so complicated and layered I can’t imagine anyone creating it without a computer, but I’m probably wrong — there’s a complexity to some of these images that reminds me of medical illustrations.
There’s some info on biomimicry, pollination (including other pals that pollinate, like the death’s head moth), small bees, cave people, ancient Egypt (where they kept bees in nifty, stackable clay vessels), the diet of the Greek gods, and then here’s dead Alexander the Great, who was transported home in a huge pot of honey after he died (to preserve him). There’s a lot on Slavic cultures, and more on the Polish culture than I’d normally expect to see in a book on bees, because of the book’s origin. St. Ambrose is the patron saint of bees! And Napoleon and Josephine changed the fleur de lis to a golden bee design, to wipe away all traces of the kings who’d ruled France before him. Here is a fake newspaper broadside with miscellaneous bee facts.
S: Way more text on that page.
G: Some bits on domestication, and then beekeeping through the ages. Weird Polish history note: beekeepers were held in high regard, and in medieval Poland they had a lot of power, including being able to sentence people to death, which was the punishment for anyone who stole bees.
S: The medieval beekeeper uniforms are fantastic!
G: Bee hives people make (including old styles from other cultures), beekeeping equipment which is fascinating if you’ve never seen it, and then the crazy thing — people make beehive sculptures (in Poland!).
S: I see Jesus.
G: … and St. Francis, Adam and Eve, demons, soldiers…the list goes on. This is my favorite page in the book. I need to see if my friend Dave, who keeps bees, can build something like this.
When Your Llama Needs A Haircut by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman. Little Simon, 2018. 9781534405639. Board book, for kids who might chew on it. Very few pages.
It’s picture day and your llama needs a haircut. But of course your llama thinks its hair looks fine. What do you do? (Warning: your llama will not look good in a bowl cut. But the drawing of it in the book is hilarious.)
The Only Fish In The Sea by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Roaring Brook, 2017. 978626722828. Picture book.
Sherman tells Sadie about Amy Scott, who got a goldfish for her birthday, then walked to the end of the dock and threw it into the sea. It must be lonely, and may be in grave danger. Sadie starts calling the goldfish Ellsworth, and with the help of six monkeys she mounts a rescue operation. (The art in this is also fun. Very sketchy. And the monkeys are a hoot.)
Another Way to Climb a Tree by Liz Garton Scanlon, pictures by Hadley Hooper. 9781626723528. Roaring Brook, 2017. Picture book.
Lulu climbs all the trees, even the ones other kids fall out of. Then she’s sick and stuck inside for a day and has to find a way to use her imagination to climb trees. That’s my adult explanation that’s not as fun as the book, which also looks wonderfully colorful and textured and somehow retro.
The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates, cowritten with Juniper Bates (her 7th grade daughter). Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2018. 9781534406582. Picture book.
A smiling, friendly umbrella loves to help, and it’s kind of magic so it gets bigger and bigger as more people gather underneath it to hide from the rain (no matter how tall or large they are). This is a great picture book idea that’s beautifully executed and destined to be a bestseller forever in a place like Seattle.
Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim. Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), 2017. 9781632170774. 96pp.
“Halmoni” is Korean for grandma. My daughter’s halmoni became everyone’s halmoni; she lived with us in Seattle for over 13 years, from just after my daughter was born until she passed away a few years ago. So when I saw this book I pretty much had to buy it for my family. But it’s so beautiful it probably belongs on your shelf, or at least your library’s, too.
Two kids, Joon and his noona (a word that means “older sister,” but only for boys) arrive at their grandma’s house, but they can’t find her. They climb out the window and start following animal tracks only to find a Korean-speaking, chocolate-loving rabbit who they can’t quite understand. (The Korean text is in hangul throughout, but if you can’t read it there’s a “What did they say?” section at the back.) But they do understand the word for “tiger” that the rabbit says, and then it gives them a back scratcher and wanders off. They also meet goblins, the tiger, and a white-haired, nine-tailed fox with a secret.
Nobody’s Duck by Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 9780544792500.
An irritated alligator sees a duck painting his toenails and reading the paper on the alligator’s lawn. When he asks whose duck he is, he says he’s nobody’s duck. So the alligator takes him all over town to find out who the duck belongs to, first to the library, then to the movie theater, and on and on. They bond.
It’s more than kinda great, and it’s all in comics format. While it has an after school special ending (which I usually don’t go for), it’s not very message-y, and it’s so genuinely, relentlessly upbeat that it works and I think everyone will love it.
Woof & Quack in Winter (Green Light Readers Level 1) by Jamie A. Swenson & Ryan Sias. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 9780544959026.
Quack tells Woof he’s not flying south for the winter. Woof is worried his friend will be cold. They have some fun together in the snow and then go south together, where they also have lots of fun at the beach.
This is a simple easy reader in comics format. And it’s a duck, so it will get kids ready for Howard The’s inevitable comeback.
My Friend Lucky: a love story (Ready To Read Pre-Level One) by David Milgrim. Simon Spotlight, 2017. 9781481489010.
Expressive cartoon images show the love between a boy and his dog and give kids a chance to learn a little opposing vocab. “Lucky gives.” (Lucky licking the boy.) “Lucky gets.” (The boy kissing Lucky.)
(If I wrote a book like this, the boy would be licking the dog on the second page. At which point the publisher would be like, “Next!” which I guess is why I don’t get to write books like this. Though this does give me some hope that one day I might be able to draw one if I keep it simple, because Milgrim makes it look so easy (even though I know it’s not).)
This book is just plain nice, like the hug on the cover. No ducks, sorry.
Bolivar by Sean Rubin. Archaia, 2017. 9781684150694. 224pp.
In a lot of ways this is the longest picture book I’ve ever seen. Or is it a graphic novel? Since there are comics and a tiny bit of prose, it’s probably fair to say it’s both. And it’s even more important to say that I enjoyed it as an adult, not for some generic, unnamed kid’s sake sake.
Bolivar, a dinosaur, lives in New York City, but only his neighbor Sybil seems to notice. Everyone else is too busy. (Bolivar lives on corned beef sandwiches and tonic water with lime.) Sybil spends the first part of the book trying to convince everyone that Bolivar is a dinosaur and entirely fails (in fun ways) to get evidence. After Bolivar is given a parking ticket (despite not being a car), he has to go to City Hall and file a complaint, and the book takes a fun turn.
My favorite part of the book are the illustrated mosaics on the endpapers, the title page, and on the subway walls in the book. I cannot imagine how much time Rubin spent on them, and they look amazing. But really the whole book is fab. The people are very cartoony but have a lot of character, the streets and interiors are amazingly detailed, and every page has a texture that reminds me of Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I’m so happy Archaia published this in an oversized format — it really deserves it.
Bonus: The whole book is as much a love letter to New York as Roz Chast’s latest.
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Adam Rex. Balzer + Bray, 2017. 9780062438898.
The secret origins of the generations-long battle between the three equally matched rivals: rock, paper, and scissors. Each mighty warrior has defeated all of the possible challengers in their homelands and goes in search of worthy adversaries elsewhere in the house. All of the battles are wonderfully over dramatic and over the top in both text and art, with hilarious pre-battle smack talk in word balloons. According to Nancy Pearl, bookseller Rene Kirkpatrick says you should read it aloud as though you are announcing a motocross race. I totally agree.