The Honeybee Man by L. Nargi
Nargi, Lela. The Honeybee Man. Illus. Kyrsten Brooker. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2011. Print.
This charming picture book chronicles the unconventional cottage industry of Fred, a Brooklynite who spends his spare time tending three colonies of honeybees housed on the roof of his townhouse. As the day unfolds, we follow Fred’s bees as they fan out across the borough, bringing back nectar from the herb gardens, flower pots, and even wild blueberry bushes flowering therein. Fred then harvests the honey and distributes jars of it to his neighbours.
With this growing popularity of urban agriculture (and urban apiculture), Nargi’s story is a timely one, clearly aimed at progressive young families interested in the connection between local ecology and human community. The book is transparently but not disagreeably didactic: bee behaviour is examined and explained (both within the context of the story and in a two-page appendix), and the processes of beekeeping and honeymaking are illuminated through Fred’s perambulations within his apartment-cum-apiary.
Brooker’s illustrations, a combination of gestural painting and collage, have a patchwork, handmade quality well suited to the book’s overarching preoccupation with all things organic and homespun. Her renderings of Brooklyn’s brownstone vistas are simple in their bright, flat planes of colour, but also satisfyingly dense with decoupaged texture and detail. Like the honey made by Fred’s “tireless Brooklyn bees,” her artwork is both a concentration - and a sweetening - of the teeming heterogeneity of urban life.
Highly recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Sarah Mead-Willis
Sarah is the Rare Book Cataloguer at the University of Alberta's Bruce Peel Special Collections Library. She holds a BA and an MLIS from the University of Alberta and an MA in English Literature from the University of Victoria.