The Latest Buzz

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© Ed Karle

I shared some citizen science stories with the Worcester County Beekeepers this past week, and got to catch up with one of my favorite hive detectives: Mary Duane. Long live the bees … and their keepers!

My Bees Around Town

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I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: keeping honeybees is much harder than writing about them. In the year since I became a beekeeper, I’ve struggled to keep my very small apiary buzzing. I currently have two hives, but one of them is in trouble. It won’t live through the winter. (Lost its queen, began to dwindle, and is now infested with wax moths. Ugh.)

I’ve decided, though, to keep at it. I love what the hives are teaching me (patience, for one, but also the most amazing things about insect communities and the way they respond to the natural world around them). Also? I found a great message on my answering machine this week. It was from a neighbor, and it went something like this:

Hi, Loree! It’s Craig. I’m calling to tell you a funny story. I was at Ed’s house [note: Ed is another neighbor] over the weekend, and we were relaxing in his yard, and he said, ‘Craig, look at that apple tree. Would you believe that thing has not produced an apple in all the years I’ve lived here? Not one in a decade. And then, this year, BOOM! … apples. Isn’t it the strangest thing? I can’t explain it.’ To which I said, ‘I can: The Burnses keep honey bees now.’

I am proud of my bees. Theirs is not an easy lot, what with having hatched at the exact wrong time to be a honey bee on planet Earth, and, at the same time, being saddled with a fairly inept newbee keeper. Somehow, though, they’ve spent their tumultuous year at my place doing their thing: pollinating plants. I love them for that. I really do.

If you have the interest, I highly recommend you find a mentor beekeeper. Check out their hives. Learn the ropes. When you’re ready, start an apiary of your own. If those ideas feel overwhelming right now, listen to the TED Talk above by Marla Spivak, a honey bee researcher from Minnesota. She gives a great overview of the honey bee crisis, but ends her talk with some hopeful ideas and some really easy things that you can do to help the bees. And, in turn, beef up your neighborhood apple trees.

The Sweet and the Not-So-Sweet



Sweet news: the paperback edition of The Hive Detectives was released this week. You can purchase a copy through your local independent bookseller (click here) or by visiting your nearest brick and mortar bookstore.

Even more sweet news: At the time the new edition went to press, I was able to write a Research Update that included this line: “The most recent survey of U.S. beekeepers indicates that fewer honey bee colonies were lost in 2011-2012 than in the five years prior.”

Not-so-sweet news:  Less than a year later, the news is less rosy: scientists and beekeepers now think the winter of 2012-2013 may have been the worst on record for honey bees.

Clearly our honey bees are still in trouble. What can you do? Educate yourself about bees and other pollinators. (The Hive Detectives is a good start, as are the books found here.) If you are a landowner, provide good pollinator habitat. And, of course, consider becoming a beespotter or a honey bee citizen scientist.



Cool Buzz!

© Catherine Griffin Burns

“Put on your veil, grab your hive tool, and light up your smoker … we’re going into a beehive.”

When I wrote those words to open THE HIVE DETECTIVES, I never, ever, ever thought I would say them out loud in my own backyard. But on Tuesday, with my daughter and her camera nearby, I did just that. And guess who was there to hear them?

Mary Duane!

Mary is the beekeeper who helped me introduce honey bees and hives and honey-making to readers in THE HIVE DETECTIVES. How fitting that she be the one to help me through my first hive inspection, patiently reminding me how to keep my smoker lit, how to use my hive tool properly, and how to stay calm when a honey bee landed on my veil. (I honestly couldn’t tell if it was on the outside or the inside.)

Oh, the places a book will bring you!

Where Science Meets Adventure


Attention teachers and science lovers: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has launched a new website devoted entirely to the award-winning Scientists in the Field (SITF) series. These books for upper elementary and middle school students cover an impressive array of science topics, from honey bees and trash (my two entries in the series, pictured above) to sea horses, wild horses, manatees, tarantulas, anthropology, space exploration, and beyond. The new site includes an overview of the series, including every SITF title, and features sneak peeks from upcoming titles and updates from the authors.

What are you waiting for? Go check it out!

Saving Bees

© Loree Griffin Burns

Yesterday I submitted my research update for the paperback edition of THE HIVE DETECTIVES. Phew. But I cannot get honey bees–all bees, actually–out of my head.

According to The Plight of the Bees, a review of the CCD crisis and pollinator issues published last year in Environmental Science & Technology (volume 45, pages 34-38), there are three factors at play in bee declines: 1) bee diseases and parasites, 2) chemical contamination of flowers, nesting sites and nesting materials, and 3) insufficient food sources across the growing season.

There isn’t a whole lot you and I can do about number one, but we can do something about numbers two and three.

What, exactly?

Stop using pesticides on your garden and herbicides on your lawn.

Plant more flowers.

Think about it. And if your an over-achiever, consider helping bees by joining The Great Sunflower Project, too.

Hive Detectives Update

© Ellen Harasimowicz

“Tracking CCD continues to be complex. Despite several claims, we still don’t know the cause …”
Jeff Pettis, USDA press release May 31, 2012

The paperback edition The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe will be released next spring, and I’ve been preparing a research update to include in the backmatter. Which means I’ve been reading up on two years of new CCD research, talking with the hive detectives (Jeff Pettis, pictured above, Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Diana Cox-Foster, and Maryann Frazier), and boiling all the information I collected down into a few succinct and reader-friendly paragraphs.

Sounds like it should have taken a single working day, right? Or maybe two? Ha. It took me over a month. I may be thorough, but I am not fast.

Then again, what is the rush? The results reported in this 2012 paper from hive detectives Jeff Pettis and Dennis vanEngelsdorp were derived from experiments in progress when Ellen Harasimowicz took the photo above … in April 2008. Some things take time. Sometimes thorough is more important than fast.

(That’s my story and I am sticking to it!)

SB&F Fun

The SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, coordinated by the wonderful editors at the review journal Science Books and Films (SB&F) and sponsored by the science-loving folks at Subaru, were awarded this past weekend at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In case the abundance of acronyms have you doubting there was much fun to be had, allow me to elaborate …

They painted our book cover onto the hood of a Subaru:

And since I couldn’t drive the car inside the convention center, I posed on top of it instead:

Ellen Harasimowicz and I signed books beside it, too:

And I met Ms. Frizzle! Okay, not exactly Ms. Frizzle … but I did meet Joanna Cole and Bruce Degan, creators of the Magic Schoolbus books and SB&F Prize winners in the picture book category (below, right). And I met Sean Connolly, too, the SB&F Prize winner in the hands-on category (below, left). Here we all are clutching our fancy new awards:

Call me crazy, but that was fun!

Thank you to Subaru, AAAS, SB&F, Heather Malcomson, Terry Young, Maren Ostergard and all of the scientists, librarians, editors, and book lovers who helped make this weekend celebration of science books for kids such a blast.

All photos © Ellen Harasimowicz

Cheers for the CYBILS

© Painting by Catherine Griffin Burns

The 2010 Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (CYBILS) finalists were named on January 1st and I was thrilled and honored to see THE HIVE DETECTIVES on the Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction List. Thank you, CYBILS judges! And thank you, Kate Messner, for nominating THD in the first place.

CYBILS are awarded in eleven categories, and this year more than 1200 books were nominated. I served as a first round judge for the inaugural CYBILS back in 2006, and this number stupefies me. That’s a lot of books to read and ponder in a very short time frame, especially a time frame that spans the holiday season. Signing on to do so may, in fact, be the ultimate definition of Kidlit Book Love. Those judges rock.

A final, wild Hooray! for the surprising number of titles that I’d not seen before these lists were announced. How did I miss so many great 2010 books? I don’t know, but I’m glad the CYBILS judges pointed a spotlight on them before the world moved on to a brand new publishing year.

If you love kids books and would like to learn more about the CYBILS, follow the links above. Be sure to check out the book categories closest to my science geek heart, Nonfiction for Middle Grade/Young Adults and Nonfiction Picture Books. And if you decide to treat yourself to a book or two, consider ordering them through the CYBILS website; this is the simplest way to thank the amazing kidlit bloggers who pour their time, energy, and passion into celebrating great books for kids.