The Buzz About The Hive Detectives

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe is a new book in the fabulous Scientists in the Field series, by Lorre Griffin Burns, with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. hive-detectives

Time for a disclosure: I have been interested in honey bees for a long time and co-authored some lesson plans about honey bees during the 1990’s. I think all bees are really cool, and especially honey bees. So, when I found this book at our local library, I grabbed it.

I was not disappointed. Burns starts into the topic with a visit to Mary Duane’s backyard. Mary calmly works the bees as she explains many aspects of honey bee biology and the culture techniques she uses. I love the photographs of the brightly-colored hives.

The author moves next to colony collapse disorder or CCD – the problem with honey bees disappearing that has been in the news – by going right to the beekeeper who first noticed missing bees. Dave Hackenberg runs a large company, Hackenberg Apiaries. He moves thousands of hives around the country. When he found 400 empty hives in Florida, he knew something big had gone wrong and he sounded the alarm.

Burns then introduces us to four bee scientists who are at the front lines of CCD research, and explains their roles in the investigation. The honey bees have been hit with Varroa mites, tracheal mites and a parasite called Nosema in recent years, but none of those seemed to be correlated with CCD. Diana Cox-Foster has identified a virus that is correlated with CCD called “Israeli acute paralysis virus.” She is now running experiments to establish causation.

Finally, Burns wraps up by taking us back to Mary Duane’s beeyard for a lesson about gathering and processing honey. Nice!

The author has also included substantial additional information at the end of the book, with an appendix, a glossary, a list of books, magazines, videos and websites, as well as some select references and an index. This book is a researcher’s dream.

I did question one sentence on page 13: “Wind, rain, spiders, and others animals pollinate plants, but nothing does the job as efficiently as the honey bee.” Okay, many plants are definitely wind pollinated. The “rain and spiders” part gives me pause, though. The author may have found some rare examples of rain or spider pollination, but on the most part rain and spiders are hazards that inhibit pollination.

The effect of spiders on pollination is demonstrated graphically in this video:

So, why didn’t the author mention the other beneficial pollinators such as a diverse collection of bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, bats, and birds, instead of “other animals?” I’m not altogether sure. I think everyone agrees that honey bees do an important job.

The rest of this book is exemplary. You should take a look at it for the stunning photographs alone.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 80 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (May 3, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0547152310
ISBN-13: 978-0547152318

For some hands-on activities, try:

Honey Bees:  Science Activities for Kids


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Lori Calabrese’s Blog.

A “Short” Review: Planet Hunter

planet hunterTravis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes has given the Nonfiction Monday carnival regulars a challenge to produce a nontraditional book review today.

Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein is about a scientist who looks for planets around stars other than our sun. He has made many important finds using innovative techniques, as this video demonstrates.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at 100 Scope Notes.

The book was supplied by the author (who will now probably ask for it back 🙂 ).

(For a more traditional review of Planet Hunter, see the previous post. Hey, I had it done already.)

Jane Goodall and Chimps

As an aspiring children’s book author, I am now ready to throw in the towel. I was okay when the king of artist biographies, Mike Venezia, moved into biographies of musicians. I started to get a little uneasy when he began to tackle the presidents. Now I have found out Mr. Venezia has a new “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Inventors and Scientists” series. He is just too much competition, I’m afraid. I’m calling it quits.

Okay, so that was tongue-in-cheek, which I’m sure Mike Venezia would understand because he is so fantastic at injecting humor into his works.Jane-Goodall

This weekend I found a copy of Jane Goodall:  Researcher Who Champions Chimps at the library. If you are familiar with Mike Venezia’s previous books, you will immediately recognize the winning formula here. Interspersed with pages of the typical biographical information and photographs are lighthearted stories of things Jane Goodall did as a child, illustrated with funny cartoons.

Most children find the less-serious approach very appealing, and these books are wonderful for reluctant readers. Adults shouldn’t be fooled though, this book does an excellent job of covering the essentials of Jane Goodall’s life. One can’t help being inspired by an eager young secretary who goes to Africa in search of adventure and ends up a famous ethologist and world authority on chimpanzees.

A perfect fit for any library, this book is sure to attract readers.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Library Binding: 32 pages
Publisher: Children’s Press (March 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0531237311
ISBN-13: 978-0531237311

On the same day, I also found Termites on a Stick by Michele Coxon, which would make a fine companion to the Jane Goodall book.

Termites on a Stick

In this case, the illustrations caught my eye. The chimpanzees that Jane Goodall studied take center stage. The story follows a little chimp as he learns the important skill of using a stick as a tool to fish for termites. This is one of the first interesting behaviors that Jane Goodall discovered.

The book includes a page of chimpanzee facts and detailed illustrations of a chimps hands and feet, as well as the inside of a termite mound.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Star Bright Books (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1595721835
ISBN-13: 978-1595721839

If you are interested in learning more about Jane Goodall, try Meet A Scientist:  Jane Goodall at Growing With Science today. If you want to see more about how chimps and gorillas feed on ants, check Wild About Ants.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at In Need of Chocolate.

Torn Paper Collage Illustrations in Children’s Nonfiction

Our family visited an exhibit of botanical art at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix last week. There was a heavy emphasis on scientific accuracy in all the incredible illustrations, which you can see by going to the member’s gallery
at the American Society of Botanical Illustrator’s website and clicking on any of the artists’ names.

Seeing these works made me think of the illustrations in a couple of children’s nonfiction books I had seen lately: How an Egg Grows Into a Chicken by Tanya Kant and Carolyn Franklin (Illustrator), and Life in a Coral Reef (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Wendy Pfeffer and Steve Jenkins.
In both cases the illustrators choose to use torn paper collage. This is a lovely and artistically interesting technique, but I’m afraid that the details and accuracy are lost somewhat. For example, in the first book the torn paper eggs look rough and irregular, not really egg-like at all. In the second book, one of the illustrations looked like it was composed of leftover dots from a hole punch. To paraphrase a famous comedian, if it looks like anyone off the street could have done it, it probably isn’t great art.

As a person interested in art, I like the unusual look and neat texture of torn paper collage in other contexts. As a scientist, I am worried that a child will not get as much out of a book with illustrations that are confusing, lack definition or are flat out unrealistic, especially when there are so many really good books out there with scientifically-accurate illustrations or fantastic photographs.

What do you think of this trend? Are torn paper collages useful or over used?

How an Egg Grows Into a Chicken
Tanya Kant and Carolyn Franklin (Illustrator)

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Children’s Press(CT) (September 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0531238016
ISBN-13: 978-0531238011

Life in a Coral Reef (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
Wendy Pfeffer and Steve Jenkins

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Collins (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0060295538
ISBN-13: 978-0060295530
Product Dimensions: 10 x 8.1 x 0.4 inches


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Practically Paradise