The Classroom Bookshelf
Inside The Classroom Bookshelf

The Honeybee Man

The Honeybee Man
Written by Lela Nargi, Illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York
ISBN: 978-0-375-84980-0
Book Review
Many may not consider Brooklyn, where Fred the Honeybee Man lives, or their own metropolitan area, as a hub for urban agriculture. But Fred’s Brooklyn neighborhood is teaming with food: maple trees, peas, sage, squash, blueberries, and, thanks to Fred, honey. Queen Mab, Queen Nefertiti, and Queen Boadicea, and all of their worker bees, comprise Fred’s rooftop “tiny city,” and, along with his dog Copper and cat Cat, Fred’s “enormous family” as well. Nargi’s abundant sensory details, rich imagery, and deftly layered information about honey bees alongside Brooker’s mixed-media collage illustrations allow the reader to fly with Fred’s bees through July and August on their quest for flower nectar; watch Fred’s late summer harvest of honeycombs, as he captures the honey and labels his jars; and sit on Fred’s stoop as he shares his honey with the neighbors whose nectar supplies the bee. Readers will want to dip their fingers in Fred’s honey, to taste the linden flowers, the rosemary, and the often-elusive urban blueberry. Backmatter includes additional information about beekeeping, and the end pages provide diagrams and cross-sections of bees, flowers, and frames. Our summer is fading into fall, and, like the bees, will be gone by October; this book can help us bridge the seasons and celebrate the urban harvest.
Teaching Invitations
  • Where’s Your Honey From? Bring honey from a variety of sources into the classroom. Students may be able to share unopened jars from home, or local retailers (grocery store, farm stand, farmer’s market, local bodega) may be willing to donate. Have students compare and contrast where the honey was harvested using the information provided on the jars. On a map, pinpoint the sources of honey, and then calculate how the honey had to travel to get to your town or city.  Using current gas prices, determine how much it might have cost to transport the honey to you.
  • Taste and Sensory Details. Once you’ve done the above activity, have your students do a blind taste test. After sampling each type of honey, the students must write down words to describe what they tasted. Encourage students to come up with descriptive synonyms. Students can then vote for their favorite honey.
  • Meet the Bees. Invite a local beekeeper to visit your classroom and discuss the process of collecting honeycombs and creating honey. Make sure your students are ready with questions, and capture the visit with a digital camera, so that you can create a class book.
  • Queen Bees and World History. How did Fred’s queen bees acquire such unique names? Have students research the origin of Queen Mab, Queen Nefertiti, and Queen Boadicea, and share their stories in small groups. Why would the author choose these names? How do the names enhance the story?
  • Sensory Details. Nargi’s text is filled with rich images and sensory details. Take your students on a walk over your school grounds and/or through local streets. As you walk, pause occasionally to let your students record the sights, sounds, smells, and textures that they experience. If you have a local farm nearby, or if you’re visiting a local orchard, you can always throw in tastes, too. When you return to the classroom, students should write short vignettes filled with rich images and sensory details, using their memory of the walk and their written notes.
  • Local Food Production. What foods or food products are grown or manufactured in your town or city? Do you have farms? Canning factories? Fisheries? Maple trees? Take your students to a local farm, factory, community garden, or have the students visit a local farmer’s market after school or on the weekend. Make sure that students document their visit with disposable digital cameras. Interview the farmers, fishermen, or factory workers to learn more about how food produced locally is shared regionally and/or nationally. Have students create their own nonfiction picture books about the process, using the digital photographs as illustrations or for use in a mixed-media collage illustration modeled on Brookman’s work in The Honey Bee Man.
Critical Literacy
  • Colony Collapse Disorder. Using The Honeybee Man as an introduction, have your students read The Hive Detectives, a Scientists in the Field volume written by Loree Griffin Burns. While students are reading the book, and when they are done, have them also explore some of the short multimodal digital texts listed below in Further Explorations. If possible, have students interview local bee keepers about their own experiences, or colleague’s experiences, with colony collapse disorder. Have students share their research, and the latest forecast for bee populations, by creating audio or video podcasts that can be shared with the school and local community. Students might want to take their own short videos or still digital photographs of local bees as part of their work. Those with allergies will want to avoid participating in the photographic documentation.
Further Explorations 
Online Resources
Lela Nargi’s Website
New York City Bee Keepers
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.
  • This young adult survey book chronicles the history of honeybees, the various roles they have played in different cultures around the world, the life cycle of the honeybee, and honey production.
Burns, L. G. (2010). The hive detectives: Chronicle of a honey bee disaster. Scientists in the field. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • This Scientists in the Field photo essay chronicles colony collapse disorder from the perspective of several scientists and bee keepers in different parts of the United States.
Heiligman, D. (2002). Honeybees. Jump into science. Ill. by C. Golembe. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
  • This Jump into Science illustrated nonfiction picture book details the life cycle of the honeybee.
Krebs, L. (2008). The Beeman. Ill. by V. Cis. Cambridge, MA: Barefoot Books.
  • In this cumulative tale, a grandfather shares the secrets of bee keeping with his young grandson.

Micucci, C. (1995). The life and times of the honeybee. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

  • This survey book provides information on the habitat and life cycle of the honeybee as well as the process of making honey.
Rockwell, A. (2005). Honey in a hive. Let’s read and find out. Ill. by  S. D. Schindler. New York: Harper Collins.
  • This Let’s Read and Find Out nonfiction picture book details the process by which bees make honey.
Stewart, M. (2009). How do bees make honey? Tell me why, tell me how. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
  • This Tell Me Why, Tell Me How nonfiction picture book also details the process by which bees make honey.
Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.