For several months flowers have been opening and displaying their splendor in gardens and in the wilds of southern Michigan. Blossoms on fruit trees have shed, carpeting the ground beneath the branches. What has not been seen, not a single one, by this observer is a honey bee. The sound of their humming as they are busily at work is alarmingly absent.
Their care has been greatly neglected by human stewards of this planet Earth. Certainly this debut book, Please Please the Bees (Albert Whitman & Company, April 11, 2017) by Gerald Kelley as both its author and illustrator reflects on thinking of others and having a well-developed attitude of gratitude but does it ask us to expand our musings? How can the balance of give and take be best maintained?
Benedict was a creature of habit. He liked to do the same thing every day.
His mornings, afternoons and evenings were marked by his favorite meals and beverages. In-between he could be seen playing his violin, knitting, riding his scooter or reading. Life was good for this honey-loving bear.
This all changed one morning when the expected three jars of honey were not full but empty. The sign-carrying bees buzzed about informing him of their strike. Benedict's day went from bed to worse to downright terrible. He was in a full-blown funk.
As he was lying in the grass contemplating the current state of affairs a small bee loudly informed him of exactly what had been accomplished for him. He was also told how the condition of his property and their hive was deplorable. If Benedict wanted honey, it was up to him to alter conditions and his outlook.
As the bear give this some thought, he knew there was only one thing to do. It was a goal not easily reached. Benedict tried; he really did. What would the bees see and feel now? A small bee exclaimed in a loud voice all he needed to hear.
This story comes full circle but as it returns something very special has been added and gained through the creativity of Gerald Kelley. After his opening sentence we understand why Benedict enjoys being a
creature of habit.
We also empathize with the impact of the shock of no honey but when the small bee with the loud voice points out other important factors, we can see the value in the bees going on strike. These opposing opinions, both sides of the story, are what set change in motion. The matter of fact tone of the bee, Benedict's voice and thoughts are realistic to a fault. Here are some sample passages.
Just then he heard someone say, "Hey, you! In the fur coat!"
It was a very small bee with a remarkably loud voice.
"We need to talk!" said the bee.
"Talk? Hmmph!" grumbled Benedict. "I let you
all live in my yard. All I ask is for a few jars of
honey. You should be grateful. Not go on strike!"
"A few jars?" said the bee.
"Buddy, we deliver three jars
of honey to you every day.
Every month! Every year!
Do the math, Einstein!"
The design of the front of the matching dust jacket and book case puts readers directly in the position of both the bear and the bees. We can, by the look in Benedict's eyes, easily sense his state of mind. We can also understand the frustration of the bees by the signs they are holding. To the left, on the back, the bear is looking up but we see him from the back. A bee is flying out of sight with his parting words written above Benedict.
The opening and closing endpapers are a wash of varying shades of golden orange on honeycombs. A full page image of Benedict lying in a hammock and reading beneath shade trees, a cup of tea next to him, sets the initial tone for his life of perfection, a life of sameness. The majority of the pictures cover a single page with shifts to small images over two pages for pacing or two-page visuals for impact.
These illustrations shift in their perspective; a larger point of view of Benedict reading in his bed at night to his startled discovery in the morning of only feet and empty jars in view. The use of light and shadow by Gerald Kelley is marvelous. His lines and brush strokes depict an array of textures. You want to reach out and touch the page. Benedict is one of my favorite bears portrayed in children's literature.
One of the many illustrations which stand out for me is of Benedict at night having one last cup of tea sweetened with honey. A crescent moon and stars can be seen through his window as an owl sits on the sill. An empty jar of honey is tipped on his floor next to his pink slippers. His toy bunny sits at the foot of his bed. Resting on his raised knees is his cup of tea. Wearing glasses he sits in bed reading Pride and Prejudice with the patterned quilt pulled up to his chest.
I simply can't wait to read Please Please the Bees written and illustrated by Gerald Kelley aloud to students. It has several layers which beg for contemplation and discussion. As his debut book as author, it's wonderful. You are going to want a copy for your professional and personal bookshelves. You could pair this with Bear and Bee by Sergio Ruzzier, The Case of the Vanishing Honeybees: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle, The Bear's Song by Benjamin Chaud and Bee & Me: A Story About Friendship by Alison Jay.
To learn more about Gerald Kelley and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. He maintains an account on Twitter and on Instagram. In both those feeds you can see additional images from and about this book. At the publisher's website you can view several interior illustrations. This title is discussed at School Library Journal by Betsy Bird celebrating small publishers, at Kirkus by Julie Danielson showcasing books contributing to Earth Day is every day and at Publishers Weekly highlighting bee books.