Picture Book – The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter by Shabazz Larkin

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Larkin, Shabazz. The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter. San Francisco: Readers to Eaters, 2019. (Publisher Link)

A father pens a love letter, a love letter for bees, a love letter to his sons. The Thing About Bees is a beautiful ode to bees and summertime, a love letter to the wildness of childhood. With vibrant, rhyming language, the author – who admits to having a fear of bees himself – tells his kids, and all young readers, why we need bees. Without bees there’s no more “avocados for tacos,” or “picnics with watermelon.” The bees and kids, in fact, are not unalike, buzzing, stinging, filling us with fear, but also bringing so much joy. The illustrations are stark and vibrant. Informational content about different types of bees (the kind vs. the kinda menacing) and their place in the circle of life (a guide on pollination) is included in the end pages. So much depends on the bees, on the nurturing love conveyed in this perfect book. I love that it persuades children to face their fears by addressing something so commonly misunderstood – and feared – in nature. I love to use in the classroom and to ask students to write their own love letters to something or someone in nature.

Evaluation, updated 6 June 2021: This book is a work of art. The text is short and lilting, allowing the child time to focus much of their attention on the beautiful visuals. The illustrations are impressionistic snapshots of the two boys and their father, as they point and gawk at bees. The bees flit around the pages with looping tails of flight, that transform into doodles on the pages where the text is on the adjacent page to the illustrations. The colors of the illustrations and the pages themselves are soft, warm pastels, inviting the reader into a place of comfort, where they are safe from fear. A couple of the pages are more abstract, with the children painted as bees, as wearing bee costumes against a large yellow flower center that gradates from white to black. As for the text itself, there is rhythm and rhyme. Much of this lyrical ode to bees, and children, is written as rhyming couplets, with references to those things that are so much of a child’s experiences of the world as they are young, food and fears. The author speaks directly to the child listening and invites them in with a voice that is kind and playful. At it’s essence, this picture book is meant to be, as Horning wrote, enjoyed “as a shared experience between a fluent reader and a prereader” (87).

Check out the book trailer from author Shabazz Larkin:

Horning, Kathleen. From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books. CollinHorning, K.T. (2010). From cover to cover: Evaluating and reviewing children’s books. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

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