Omar and the Bees

Authored by Helen Mortimer
Illustrated by Katie Cottle
Published by Owlet Press

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Omar and the Bees and Me is a refreshingly light addition to the increasing number of books for children with an environmental theme. There are many titles that include the ‘save the bees’ message. I Saw a Bee from Scallywag’s the ‘In the Garden’ series is another title pitched at very young children. Lottie Loves Nature: Bee-ware! is ideal for emerging readers and you may like to read Jane Clarke’s story starter for ideas to share it in the classroom. For older readers How to Bee by Bren MacDibble and Sita Bramachari’s Where the River Runs Gold offer a a world without bees and present a hard-hitting glimpse at a future world that hasn’t been cared for. Omar and the Bees and Me paints a simple picture of practical ways in which communities can support bees to thrive in their local area.

The story begins with a ‘show and tell’ lesson, in which Omar brings in a honey cake that reminds him of his grandpa in Syria, who is a beekeeper. The class go on to undertake a community project to ensure bees can thrive in their locality, by creating a ‘bee corridor’. Bee facts are cleverly woven into the story and should inspire children to seek further facts about ecosystems and habitats. The call to action is subtle, which is well suited for very young children, who may find the pressure to be the generation responsible for saving the planet more than a little intimidating. Although the message is an important one, the presentation here is fun and informative. An extra feature is a honey cake recipe, which not only looks delicious but also offers simple instructions and weights and measures to support maths or science study.

The picture book format is fully utilised by illustrator Katie Cottle as each double page spread is used to create large scenes packed with colour and a lot of detail spaciously presented. The opening and culminating pages include collage effect cut outs of bees that could easily be replicated by children. The colour palette is warm, bright, vibrant and highly appealing and would offer plenty of stimulus for exploring art, specifically colour and media.

This book has much to offer an EYFS or Year 1 classroom with links to sustainability, nature, insects, community and inclusivity. The children are representative in a completely natural way, including one with glasses and one in a wheelchair. The reader is also invited to consider different interests and cultures in a subtle way. Indeed it is refreshing to have a comparison drawn between cultures with the beekeeping link, instead of difference being the focus. For a companion nonfiction title you may find The Secret Life of Bees of interest.