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.)

Planet Hunter: At the Frontier of Space Research

Have you ever wanted to visit the laboratory of a ground-breaking research scientist? Now you can, because Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein will allow you to feel like you are standing right next to Dr. Geoff Marcy in his quest to find extrasolar planets (planets that revolve around stars other than our sun).planet hunter

Vicki Wittenstein begins by taking us to the site of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The telescopes are on a mountain so high that it rises above the clouds. The temperatures are below freezing, even in the summer, and getting to the telescopes is treacherous because of the narrow icy roads and high altitude (The author had to have an oxygen supply to visit.) Who knew that astronomy could be dangerous?

Once we’ve met Dr. Marcy and his team, the author explains carefully and clearly how to go about looking for planets orbiting around far away stars. The planets themselves are not visible because they do not reflect enough light to be detected by a telescope. Dr. Marcy uses a spectrometer to look for evidence that a star is wobbling. Stars wobble when gravity from nearby planets is tugging on them. Gathering data to establish the presence of a single planet can require years and years of tedious work. Dr. Marcy and his team have been successful, however, and have discovered half the extrasolar planets now known.

Can you imagine what it must be like to find a planet revolving around a far away star? What are the planet’s characteristics? Is it able to support life? How many extrasolar planets are out there? These are the kinds of difficult and exciting questions Dr. Marcy pursues.

This book is filled with gorgeous full-color photographs and illustrations. The “To Learn More” section at the end contains plenty of additional sources of information, as well as an extensive and helpful glossary to explain all the terminology used.

Planet Hunter is sure to thrill children interested in science and particularly those enamored with space and astronomy. It covers such a unique and contemporary topic (the first planets outside our solar system were found in 1992). Although listed as middle grade, this book is also appropriate for high school and adults who want to catch up on this area quickly, because of the high level of detail given.

For another review of Planet Hunter and suggested activities, see Simply Science.

Growing With Science celebrates Planet Hunter with related hands-on activities for children.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590785924
ISBN-13: 978-1590785928

Book was provided by author.

Cloud Forest Insects

Hold onto your hats, you are about to enter the cloud forests of Central America. You will be traveling with scientist and adventurer Randall Barnes. Hope you brought your insect net, because you are going to be  hunting eight exotic and beautiful insects. You need to bring back specimens for an exhibit at the museum, so keep a sharp lookout. field-guide-to-Insects

That’s the exciting feel of The Field Guide to Insects: Explore the Cloud Forests by Paul Beck. With a glorious mix of photographs and colorful illustrations, each page has the look of a nature journal written in the field. The cover is textured to make it feel worn. You can almost smell the dampness and hear the monkeys screeching.

Even better, each page is full of amazing facts to read about each insect. That is, to read if you can keep from opening the enticing pouches attached to the pages. Inside each pouch is a model insect to assemble. I have to admit my son had those open in a flash and we had the diorama in the back all set up before reading the rest. The models are excellent for kinesthetic and visual learners. Both will be highly engaged by this book. The most reluctant reader you know will not be able to put this book down, if they are at all interested in nature or adventure.

The Field Guide to Insects: Explore the Cloud Forests is coming out this summer, and would be perfect for one of those days when the kids say, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” After making the models, setting up the diorama and reading, they are sure to be inspired to go on their own bug hunts and to make their own nature journal. The book is so filled with creativity and imagination, it is guaranteed to stimulate all sorts of stories and projects.

I already had found and loved Tarantulas Inside and Out, published by SilverDolphin. Now I have seen this one, I am totally enamored with their books. They are absolutely wonderful!

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1607100932
ISBN-13: 978-1607100935

Note:  Although Amazon lists the reading level as ages 4-8, the book says it is for ages 8 and up, which would  a better estimation. I would say that assembling the models does require a certain amount of fine motor skill and those younger than 8 would probably need assistance from an adult. The author is not afraid to use advanced entomological terms, either.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.


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 Check It Out.