Everything you could possibly want to know about bees in one stunning large-format picture book.
Wow – bees are amazing creatures! And if you didn’t think so before, you certainly will after browsing this encyclopaedic picture book. There are 72 very large pages to enjoy on topics such as ‘Bees and Dinosaurs’, ‘Unusual Beehives’ and ‘The Giant Honey Bees of Asia’.
Pride of place is given to the illustrations by renowned Polish graphic designer and illustrator, Piotr Socha. His stunning contemporary botanical artwork dominates the double spreads, while text is confined to a small band at the bottom of each page. In fact, the writer’s name, Wojciech Grajkowski, doesn’t feature on the front cover, although it is revealed on the title page.
So, let’s zoom in on that artwork to start. Many spreads comprise an array of illustrations on a theme: flowers, insects, plants, veggies, Greek gods, beehives and – of course – bees. Outlines are clearly defined, patterns exquisitely detailed (like the honeycomb), and textures so finely wrought that you can almost feel them on the page. Oh, and the colour, that glorious colour catches the eye and draws the reader in for a closer look again and again.
Touches of humour are sprinkled through the illustrations, too. ‘Tree Beekeeping’ is one of my favourite spreads. It features two very similar illustrations on the left and right pages. On the left, a human beekeeper suspended on a swing gathers honey from a hole high up in a tree. On the right a bear with a big grin has replaced the human (no swing or ropes here), and is busy helping itself to honeycomb from what appears to be the very same tree.
The illustrations may dominate the page, but the text is well worth reading too. Translated from the Polish into clear, fluent prose, each section provides interesting facts and stories about bees for readers wanting to know more. Did you know that a honey bee in flight beats its wings 230 times per second? Or that the ancient Egyptians were expert beekeepers? Or that the giant honey bees of Asia don’t grow much bigger than 2 cm long? Well you do now. And so do I!
The Book of Bees is the sort of book you can leave on a coffee table for readers to browse at their leisure, or keep on a bookshelf for future reference. It’s a real treat, like a pot of fresh honey straight from the hive. Dip in and enjoy!
The Book of Bees illustrated by Piotr Socha, with text by Wojciech Grajkowski, translated by Agnes Monod-Gayraud (Thames and Hudson, 2016)
Piotr Socha is a graphic designer, illustrator and the son of a beekeeper. He is well-known for his illustrations in various Polish newspapers and magazines. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.
Wojciech Grajkowski is a biologist who has written widely on science and nature for children. He also collaborated with Piotr Socha on The Book of Trees which was recently released in English.
Agnes Monod-Gayraud is a Polish-American journalist, writer and translator. In 2013, she moved to Poland to rediscover her Polish roots. She lives and works in Warsaw.
I included The Book of Bees on this list of 10 picture books about the natural world, compiled during World Kid Lit Month 2018.