The Birds and the Bees

Birds of a Feather. Helen’s Birds. Johnny’s Pheasant. Strange Birds. The Parrot and the Merchant. Fly! Sometimes, particular subjects take off in children’s books. Lately, bird books are soaring, and the office hivemind has noticed bee books gathering, too.

See Nesting by Henry Cole and Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Eric Rohmann (both in this issue; the latter on our cover, at right), for example. And keep your eagle eyes peeled for more bird and bee books in upcoming issues.

Here are some titles we hope will bee just right for young avian and apian aficionados.

They’ll swarm to them.

Flock to them.

(I’d better duck.)

Where Have All the Bees Gone?: Pollinators in Crisis
by Rebecca E. Hirsch; Twenty-First Century
(Intermediate, Middle School)

The answers to why bee populations have dwindled are complicated, and Hirsch explains the processes scientists are using to identify causes of bee population decline. She also shares enough broader ecology to show why we should make it our beeswax to care about bees, with frequent sidebars, diagrams, and photos of bees and their habitats to sweeten the deal.

by Jorey Hurley; Wiseman/Simon
(Preschool, Primary)

As in previous titles by Hurley (Nest, Hop), each double-page spread of Beehive contains one word, with a full-bleed digital illustration making it clear what that word means in a bee’s life. The striking lay spread, for example, shows a close-up of a bee adding an egg to a nest; collect shows two busy bees gathering nectar from flowers. An appended author’s note connects these same words to paragraphs expounding on the lives in hives.

The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter
by Shabazz Larkin; Readers to Eaters

Larkin expresses love for his sons and for bees; in a poetic text addressing his kids, he admits that both the boys and the bees can sometimes be bothersome, but “we need [bees] just as much / as we need you.” Mixed-media illustrations based partly on photos of Larkin and his family include loose diagrams showing the steps of pollination and a range of bee species from “kind” to “kinda mean.” An unusual mix of science and, well, sweetness.

Look Down and See: Natural Wonders of the World
by Bethany Lord; Ivy Kids
(Primary, Intermediate)

Lord provides readers with a literal bird’s-eye view of Victoria Falls, the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, the Serengeti, and more. Each full-bleed double-page spread shows a landscape from the viewpoint of a bird typically found there. “Since birds see things very differently from us, we’ve used our imagination to show a picture of what they could be seeing,” says the introduction. Readers who prefer to flit in and out of books should enjoy the many call-outs with inset maps, facts about each location, and items to search for.

Ivy Bird
by Tania McCartney, illus. by Jess ­Racklyeft; Blue Dot Kids

Ivy Bird follows a small bird — whose feathers match her young human companion’s red hair — through a day’s activities: paddling with ducks, collecting shiny objects with bowerbirds, chirping with magpies, and so forth. Readers can spot a variety of birds in the vivid mixed-media illustrations, or turn to the back for descriptions of the whole flock.

Bird Count
by Susan Edwards Richmond, illus. by Stephanie Fizer Coleman; Peachtree
Young narrator Ava and her mother spend a winter day observing and recording the bird species they see as part of the annual Christmas Bird Count (an author’s note explains that the event is run by the National Audubon ­Society). The text is full of information for fledgling scientists, with species names in bold and more information about each in the back matter. Ava’s tally appears on the side of each spread during the count, allowing readers to watch the list grow as she spots new species.

I Am Goose!
by Dorothia Rohner, illus. by Vanya Nastanlieva; Clarion

The silly-goose protagonist can’t understand why Pig, Fox, and Turtle are chosen as the goose in a Duck, Duck, Goose game. Amid the ridiculously ruffled feathers is a fair amount of information about what makes a goose a goose (webbed feet, feathers, etc.) and a demonstration of how to compare and contrast — in this case, between “A Goose” and “Not a Goose.” The accessible speech-bubble dialogue within the pastel-hued illustrations would make this a good choice for a readers’-theater cast to strut its stuff.

Seagulls Soar
by April Pulley Sayre, illus. by Kasia Bogdańska; Boyds Mills/Boyds Mills & Kane
(Preschool, Primary)

“Seagulls swerve. / Seagulls soar. / Yack! Yack! Yack! / from ship to shore.” With short rhyming lines somewhat reminiscent of rocking waves, Sayre follows gulls from ocean to desert to dump; informative back matter explains that “seagull is a common name for many species of birds in the family ­Laridae” and that some spend more time near water than others — but they are all survivors, adapting to changing ­conditions and habitats. Digital illustrations capture the variety of landscapes (and seascapes, and lakescapes) visited by gulls.

The Nest That Wren Built
by Randi Sonenshine, illus. by Anne Hunter; Candlewick
(Preschool, Primary)

This picture book shows a birdy abode coming together for a wren family, with lots of specifics: snakeskin to scare predators; moss used for lining the nest; an egg sac anticipating spiders that will eat mites. Ink and colored-pencil illustrations in muted colors give close-up views of the nest and its inhabitants, and a glossary and ­additional “wren facts” further expand the information in the rhyming “House That Jack Built”–like text.

More Books We’re Buzzing and Chirping About

Reviews of the following books can be found in recent issues of The Horn Book Magazine.

Stand on the Sky (Houghton) by Erin Bow (rev. 3/19)

Helen’s Birds (Groundwood) by Sara Cassidy; illus. by Sophie ­Casson (rev. 1/20)

Nesting (Tegen/HarperCollins) by Henry Cole (rev. 3/20)

Hummingbird (Candlewick) by Nicola Davies; illus. by Jane Ray (rev. 7/19)

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera (Porter/Holiday) by Candace Fleming; illus. by Eric Rohmann (rev. 3/20)

Swim Swim Sink (Disney-Hyperion) by Jenn Harney (rev. 3/20)

Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? (Knopf) by Kelly Jones; illus. by Katie Kath (rev. 1/19)

Bugs in Danger: Our Vanishing Bees, Butterflies, and Beetles (Bloomsbury) by Mark ­Kurlansky; illus. by Jia Liu (rev. 11/19)

My Happy Year by E. Bluebird (Holiday) by Paul Meisel (rev. 5/19)

Johnny’s Pheasant (Minnesota) by Cheryl Minnema; illus. by Julie Flett (rev. 1/20)

Karl’s New Beak: 3-D Printing Builds a Bird a Better Life (Smithsonian/Capstone) by Lela Nargi; illus. by Harriet Popham (rev. 5/19)

Dinosaur Feathers (Porter/Holiday) by Dennis Nolan (rev. 11/19)

Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers (Kokila/­Penguin) by Celia C. Pérez (rev. 9/19)

Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me (Porter/Holiday) by Susan L. Roth (rev. 9/19)

One Dark Bird (Beach Lane/Simon) by Liz Garton Scanlon; illus. by Frann Preston-Gannon (rev. 7/19)

Extraordinary Birds (Bloomsbury) by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (rev. 5/19)

Not Your Nest! (Dial) by Gideon Sterer; illus. by Andrea Tsurumi (rev. 5/19)

Fly! (Beach Lane/Simon) by Mark Teague (rev. 11/19)

Ducks! (Godwin/Holt) by Deborah Underwood; illus. by T. L. McBeth (rev. 3/20)

The Parrot and the Merchant: A Tale by Rumi (Tiny Owl) retold by Marjan Vafaeian (rev. 9/19)


From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Community matters. Stay up to date on breaking news, trends, reviews, and more.

Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more