Reviews /

STEMville: The Bee Connection

Authored by Ben Newman
Illustrated by Ben Newman
Published by Flying Eye Books

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The quirky playfulness of Ben Newman’s illustrations have an instant appeal. They are strongly reminiscent of Richard Scarry but with a fresh and distinctive boldness. Following his success with space and physics in the Professor Astro Cat series, this book is the first of the new Stemville series, each with a different STEM focus. They aim to be imaginative and well-designed, inspirational as well as informative.

The Bee Connection is a characteristic blend of narrative and information. The book is wonderfully rich in facts and ideas, clearly presented so that children can understand and remember. Detailed information becomes accessible because the clear illustrations carefully and wittily reinforce the text. Double page spreads cover topics including the pollination process, different bees’ roles in the hive hierarchy and a bee’s life cycle. The strong design focus ensures that every step of each process is clear. Explanations use accurate technical vocabulary, such as secrete and tessellation. Accompanying illustrations are often key in making these words subtly but perfectly accessible.

Ben Newman demonstrates the importance of bees to food crops and our entire eco-system. ‘Bees are vital to the planet’s survival’. He outlines the threats facing them, but he also lists ways that children and families can help. It therefore becomes positive and practical rather than alarmist. The whole mood of the book is fascination, with enthusiasm for science the hallmark of every page. This is a book that will have children collecting amazing facts to share – a bee produces just 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its life! They will also absorb larger concepts about engineering and construction – the spread that explains the hexagonal tessellation of a honeycomb is superb.

This is a book to read again and again, in order to enjoy the detail and the wit of the illustrations. In school, teachers may want to read it with small or guided groups.  This will encourage discussion and also help children understand the interplay between fiction and information. The story – ‘street-savvy Mason B. Chandler, a solitary (mason!) bee on a mission’ , investigating a strange honey spillage – is part of every spread. Children will inevitably miss some of the witty allusions and puns of this plot line. Some may need support to distinguish the two threads, both in the words and in the illustrations. But this is in itself is an important skill and will build valuable comprehension and inference skills.

This is a book that will enrich any Key Stage 2 shelf and consolidate a whole range of science learning. It demonstrates emphatically that the subject is both fun and fascinating. It will delight children with its mix of solid science and playful graphics.