I did not intend to write another post about a bugs, but UnBEElievables found me a few days after I purchased The Beetle Book, and well, bees are irresistible. Like beetles (and all bugs), I was scared of these tiny, furry creatures for most of my life, or at least until I started observing and learning about them. However, as in all things, the more you know, the less fear it engenders (tarantulas excepted.) And there is a lot to know about bees~a lot we should know, and a lot that is just fun to know.

In UnBEElievables, Douglas Florian gives us both, along with some truly fetching bee art. In 14 lively poems, Florian introduces us to the intricate and highly structured life of the honeybee. Each poem is accompanied by factual blurbs and the most charming paintings of insects this side of a grade two class. This is not a criticism. The multi-media illustrations are full of smiling bees, and it’s impossible not to respond in kind while flipping the pages of this book. Even the super cool, sideways cap-wearing bees of Drone (“Brother! Yo, Brother! Bee-have in your hive!…”) are sporting grins. This is a good thing, as it’s important to see apis mellifera as affable, hard-working, and life-enriching contributors to our world. Indeed, viewed through Florian’s nimble and mischievous imagination, UnBEElievables will make you want to run out and beefriend a bee. Just don’t look for the hats. I’m pretty sure he made that up.

Whether conscious of it or not, we rely on honeybees to pollinate many of our plants and crops, fill our jars with honey, and most evocatively, put the buzz in our summers~

All day we bees

Just buzz and buzz.

That’s what we duzz and duzz.

Why are we full

of fuzz and fuzz?

Bee-cuzz bee-cuzz

The fuzz the fuzz

Helps pollen stick

To uzz to uzz.


As the oft-(mis)quoted statement goes:

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.”

Alfred Einstein, no slouch in the quotables department, was not, in fact, the author of these words, though it is often attributed to him. Nevertheless, the words have a grain of truth. We need bees, in other words, and yet the honeybees’ continued presence in our gardens and crops is not assured. Our little striped friends are in crisis, and no one is quite sure why so many are succumbing to the so-called Colony Collapse Disorder. In the poem, Where Are the Bees?, Florian hints at probable causes, but whatever the origin of their plight, bees deserve to be celebrated, and not just with microscopes and statistics, but with poetry and art.

To this end, of the many funky and funny illustrations in UnBEElievables, none is more beautiful than the swirling funnel of bees in Swarm~a black cloud of nest-seeking honey bees better viewed as art than as an actual event, or so I would assume. It’s worth noting that the paintings in UnBEElievables, in gouache and coloured pencil, are painted on primed paper bags. Paper bags! Either Florian is an inventive, spontaneous artist willing to test the limits of his various mediums, or the ol’ illustration biz has fallen on hard times. In any case, the texture of this unusual surface is visible through the paint, contributing to an overall sketched quality, as if the illustrations were taken from the pages of a nature journal, and the accompanying poetry has the same airy, joyful touch. BEEautiful!

Douglas Florian studied at Queen’s College and the School of Visual Arts in New York. He is a painter, poet and a writer~illustrator of many award-winning children’s books, the first of which, A Bird Can Fly, was published in 1980. Mr Florian buzzes between his studio in New York City, and Long Island where he lives with his family.

UnBEElievables by Douglas Florian, published by Beach Lane Books, 2012