Tuesday, June 11, 2024

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: THE BEE MOTHER

Imagine an overcast, cold, windy, completely dreary early spring day. A plain brown cardboard envelope arrives from Portage & Main -- it must be a review copy of one of their latest books for young people. Rip the cardboard and what should emerge but a much-larger-than-life portrait of a fuzzy, black and yellow pollen-spotted bumble bee foraging on a bright pink flower! "Spring WILL come," the bee seems to say, "and you'll be seeing me. Here's my story." 

This bee is the creation of Metis artist Natasha Donovan. The book is The Bee Mother by Gitxsan writer Hetxw'ms Gyetxsw (Brett D. Huson). That's Nox Ap in Gitxsanimx.  Here she is on the back of our recliner.


The Bee Mother
Written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxsw (Brett D. Huson) (Gitxsan)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Metis)
Published in 2024
Publisher: Highwater Press
Reviewer: Jean Mendoza
Review Status: Highly Recommended 

AICL has enthusiastically recommended the other six books in the "Mothers of Xsan" series. We've urged educators to use them in science curricula. They blend Indigenous (Gitxsan) knowledge and western science, to follow a year in the lives of different animal species significant to the ecosystem of the Gitxsan homeland: sockeye salmon, grizzly bear, wolf, eagle, raven, and frog. There's growing public awareness of the importance of bees in ecosystems across the continent, so The Bee Mother is a timely and relevant addition to the series.

Nox Ap, the bumblebee queen, is the center of the factual narrative, but the author also spends time on two similar insect species-- yellowjacket wasps (also native to the region), and honeybees, introduced to what's currently called North America by humans but now significant to Gitxsan communities. Teachers are likely to find the distinctions among them helpful, as children often are fearful of stinging insects, and have a lot of misinformation about them.

Like other Mothers of Xsan books, The Bee Mother text is engaging, and centers Gitsxan knowledge and words. Natasha Donovan's illustrations are, as always before, appealing and built on fact, and sometimes incorporate formline figures created the author. It's a very effective collaboration overall. There's a good reason these books garner awards and all kinds of positive recognition.

This series is evidence that good picture books aren't only for younger children. Mothers of Xsan books invite readers to engage with the world outside. By showing connections between Gitsxan life and the animals, they also encourage all readers to think deeply about their own relationships with the other species that make their homes on Earth.

 The Bee Mother would be a great resource anywhere on the continent that bees can be found -- and they're just about everywhere. It would be especially cool to invite students to make observational drawings of bees (whether from careful catch-and-release, or preserved specimens, or photographs). When satisfied with their drawings, they could augment them with accurate colors and textures, moving from basic observation to expressing deeper knowledge and understanding of their subject. 

If you're teaching with The Bee Mother, you and your students might want to check out this Bibliovideo interview with Natasha Donovan.

 It's been months since that cold gray day when my copy of The Bee Mother arrived, with its promise that Spring would come eventually. Today, my prairie plants are finally in bloom, and outside my front window, a bumblebee buzzes around the sunlit spiderwort and coneflower. I'd better go take a closer look.



 




Highwater Press in Winnipeg, Manitoba