Begin with a Bee by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root, Illustrated by Claudia McGhee

University of Minnesota Press, 2021 | Hardcover: $17.95

Reviewed by Annie Lindenberg

The story of Begin with a Bee is an educational one, summarized best perhaps by one of its own pages: “Next year’s bees begin with a bee.” Published in 2021 and written by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and Phyllis Root, this book follows the life cycle of one rusty-patched bee through the course of a single year. Our first pages start us in spring alongside the queen bee as she emerges to find pollen, and it’s near impossible from those first few pages to not enjoy the vivid images the book provides in tandem with the story.

Illustrated by Claudia McGehee, Begin with a Bee’s artistic value cannot be understated. Working in scratchboard, a medium that highlights the nature of the text with woodcut-like lines, McGehee makes the queen bee’s story come alive amongst the lively natural world. While at times the text itself may feel disjointed, most likely due to its educational value overriding the story’s flow, the illustrations step up and carry their weight. They keep the work pushing forward and provide pages that can be poured over to find new details each time, while allowing the reader time to digest the important science of the rusty-patched bumblebee (the first bee to appear on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species list).

This educational value is the true heart of this book, providing necessary background on an endangered species that can be understood by any age along with information on the native plants and wildlife bumblebees need for survival. After the story’s completion, there’s supplementary information on both the rusty-hatched bee and the things we can all do to ensure their survival. Begin with a Bee has the ability to teach parent and child alike about an important species. In collaboration with the detailed, dynamic illustrations, this book will surely be capable of being picked up multiple times—departing its worthwhile message with each rereading.

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