The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees

The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery.
By Sandra Markle
Published in 2013 by Millbrook Press
Grades 3 – 8.
Book Review

If honeybees are in trouble, we’re in trouble.” In her latest title featuring a species in crisis, noted nonfiction author Sandra Markle explores the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Noting the intricate and reciprocal relationship among bees, plants, and people, Markle traces developing theories that attempt to explain why beekeepers like Dave Hackenberg began noticing significant losses in their bee colonies, as much as 30 – 50%, beginning in 2006. Following clear accessible descriptions of the processes of honey gathering, honey making, and roles of honeybee colony members, Markle explicates current theories on the causes of CCD using questions for headings as an organizational tool. For example: “Could it be a change in habitat?”, and “Could honeybees be overworked?” Throughout the book, photographs, including spectacular close up images, effectively illustrate the behaviors and processes being described. A final section of the book provides some hope to ease readers concerns while encouraging vigilance. New approaches and technologies, such as hive splitting and raising hygienic bees, may lead to increases in honeybee populations. An authors note, amazing facts about honeybees, suggestions for supporting local honeybees, global rescue efforts, a glossary, and further resources are provided in the back matter. This exceptional photo essay makes a wonderful addition to curriculum units on plants, insects, ecosystems, life cycles, and / or scientific methodologies. 

Teaching Invitations: Ideas for Your Classroom
Grades 3 – 8
  • More in The Honeybee Man Classroom Bookshelf Blog Entry. The following Teaching Invitations can be found in our entry on The Honeybee Man: Where’s Your Honey From?; Taste and Sensory Details; Meet the Bees; Queen Bees and World History; Local Food Production; Colony Collapse Disorder.
  • Duet Model Reading. Read The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery along with Markle’s 2012 title The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery in a Duet Model reading (see our Teaching WithText Sets entry) to compare content, genre, and writing style. Discuss similarities and differences in the plight of these species and efforts to improve conditions. Consider how Markle provides the reader with information about the species and how she structures the text to support readers’ understandings. Be sure to also consider the genre of the photo essay as a vehicle for science writing. After reading, examining, and discussing these two titles, students may be inspired to create their own nature-themed photo-essays.
  • Processes of Pollination. Read Bobbie Kalman’s What is Pollination to expand students’ knowledge of the processes of pollination. Ask students to create visual representations of their understanding of the processes involved in pollination. Use the diagrams that you find in the collection of honeybee books below as models for student  created representation. Arrange for students to have the opportunity to visit another classroom to show and explain their diagrams.
  • A Timeline of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Include The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees in a text set with The Hive Detectives, The Buzz About Bees, and an array of the digital texts below. Divide students into groups to work on detailing sections of a timeline that tracks beginning awareness of CCD, efforts to investigate the causes of CCD, and ups and downs in the honeybee population. Consider using a roll of craft paper to create a wall length mural timeline that tracks the progression of scientific knowledge about CCD.
  • Learning More About Bees. Use the collection of survey texts about honeybees listed below along with Markle’s book to learn more about the behaviors and roles of honeybees. Divide your class up into working groups based on sub-topics that you and/or your students identify, for example: honeymaking; colony life, beekeeping; uses for honey. Groups should put together a written product to demonstrate their learning. This could take the form of a group-authored and illustrated book, a Voice Thread, or a PowerPoint presentation.
  • First Hand Research: Interview a Beekeeper. In her author’s note, Sandra Markle describes her research process and how she “talked to beekeepers and became caught up in the very personal side of the story of the vanishing honeybees” (p. 44). Arrange for students to have an opportunity to interview a local beekeeper, ideally in person, but possibly by Skype. Students should prepare interview questions in advance.
  • Human Impact on Animal Population. Gather together a collection of books that highlight species in crisis. Your text set might include The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees, The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs, The Wolves are Back, and A Place for Butterflies along with any other digital texts you feel are appropriate that highlight the plight of threatened animals in your area or around the globe. Create a graphic organizer that guides students to read across these texts noting: initial awareness of the problem, suspect causes for the decline, and efforts to bolster survival rates. As an extension of this study students might further explore suspected causes such as habitat destruction,
  • Bee Poetry. After reading Markle’s books and several other books that highlight the important role that honeybees play in an ecosystem, share with students the bee poems found in UnBEElievables, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, and Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems for Two Voices. Invite your students to use these poems as models for their own compositions; these compositions should reflect their learning about honeybees (be scientifically accurate). Hold a honeybee poetry event at which students read and perform their poems.
Critical Literacy
Grades 5 – 8
  • Endangered Species Act. 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Explore the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services website to learn more about the Act and its accomplishments. Use The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees as a launching point for discussion of competing interests and their relation to species survival. For example, who stands to gain and lose if stricter regulations on pesticide use were put into place to reduce damaging effects on honeybee populations. Students can conduct an internet search for “Bayer and Colony Collapse Disorder” to find several documents that discuss the Bayer company’s response to a claim that a class of pesticides they produce for a commonly used pesticide is implicated in CCD.  Invite students to consider how community actions might support or hinder honeybee population growth. Students could write opinion pieces to submit to a local community publication.
Further Explorations:
Online Resources
Sandra Markle’s Blog
Endangered Species Act
New York Times: Government Study Cites Mix of Factors in Death of Honeybees
New York Times: Neocotinoid Pesticides Play a Role in Bees’ Decline
NPR Blogs: Bee Deaths May Have Reached a Crisis Point
US News: Bee Colony Collapses are More Complex Than We Thought
National Honey Board
Ontario Beekeepers Association
Nature: Silence of the Bees: Inside the Hive
National Geographic for Kids on Colony Collapse Disorder
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Colony Collapse Disorder
The Environmental Protection Agency on Colony Collapse Disorder & Pesticide Use
National Public Radio (NPR) and Possible Causes of Colony Collapse Disorder
PBS Nature Episode on Colony Collapse Disorder
Buchmann, S. (2010). Honey bees: Letters from the hive. New York: Delacorte. 
Burns, L. G. (2010). The hive detectives: Chronicle of a honey bee disaster. Scientists in the field. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Evans, L. (2013). Small world: Bee Life. Ill. by F. D’Ottavi. Insight Kids.
Fleischman, P. (1988). Joyful noise: Poems for two voices. Ill. by E. Beddows. New York: Harper Trophy.
Florian, D. (2012). UnBEElievables: Honeybee poems and paintings. New York: Beach Lane Books.
George, J.C. (2008). The wolves are back. Ill. by W. Minor. New York: Dutton.
Gerber, C. (2013). Seeds, bees, butterflies, and more!: Poems for two voices. Ill. by. E. Yelchin. New York: Henry Holt.
Heiligman, D. (2002). Honeybees. Jump into science. Ill. by C. Golembe. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. 
Huber, R. (2013). Flight of the honeybee. Ill. by B. Lovelock. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Kalman, B. (2011). What is pollination? New York: Crabtree Publishers.
Krebs, L. (2008). The Beeman. Ill. by V. Cis. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books.
Linde, B.M. (2011). The life cycle of the honeybee. New York: Gareth Stevens Pub.
Markle, S. (2012). The case of the vanishing golden frogs: A scientific mystery. Minneapolis, MN; Milbrook Press.
Nargi, L. (2011). The honeybee man. Ill. by K. Brooker. New York: Schwartz & Wade.
Micucci, C. (1995). The life and times of the honeybee. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Rockwell, A. (2005). Honey in a hive. Let’s read and find out. Ill. by  S. D. Schindler. New York: Harper Collins.
Rotner, S. (2010). The buzz on bees: Why are they disappearing. New York: Holiday House.
Smithyman, K. & Kalman, B. (2006). Insects in danger. New York: Crabtree Publishers.
Stewart, M. (2009). How do bees make honey? Tell me why, tell me how. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
Stewart, M. (2006). A place for butterflies. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree Publishers. 

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.