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honey bee pollination bees on the roof by robbie shell tumblehome learning

Bees on the Roof

Looking for a great book about the role of honey bees and pollination for your favorite middle school kids?

Bees on the Roof (Tumblehome Learning 2016), a middle-grade novel written by Robbie Shell, Philadelphia-based business journalist, tells the tale of four seventh grade kids doing a science project from conception to implementation. It is liberally sprinkled with facts about the life cycle honey bees and their ecological role in the natural and human environment.

Though it may be hard to switch one’s thought process from business to fiction, Shell discovered “the nice thing was that all of a sudden as a journalist I could totally make things up. It was exhilarating! I could shape the story as I wanted. It was hard but fun.”

It took learning of a different sort for writing Bees on the Roof, going beyond the fascinating, factual bee research that Shell was accustomed to doing as a journalist. She had to revisit her own mentality as a young teen and get advice from children’s book writers and others. For instance, she learned that kids solve a story’s problems, not adults. Shell’s biggest hurdle? “I had to make kids talk.”

But did you know that honey bees (Apis mellifera) are not native to North America and that they came from England in the 17th century? So why the hoopla over their decline and, besides, how were food crops, gardens and wild plants pollinated before the arrival of honey bees? Our native bumble bees, wasps, butterflies and bats worked hard but, as it turns out, honeybees are, by far, better and faster pollinators. “There are movements afoot to save the native bees as well,” says Shell. “Honey bees are more social and are incredibly efficient in their communication and navigation systems. They are super pollinators.”

For example, a honeybee’s body hair collects pollen while she is sucking up nectar from the male part of a flower. When she moves on to the female part of the same flower or another flower for a continuation of her meal, that pollen falls off into the flower’s stigma. The end result is fertilization.

Honey bees are in such demand that beekeepers nationwide transport honey bee hives via truck to commercial farms around the country. For example, a commercial beekeeper can haul thousands of hives on a single flatbed truck from New Jersey or Pennsylvania to California’s Central Valley where the bees will pollinate 800,000 acres of almond trees stretched across 400-plus miles. Almond trees are dependent on the honey bee for pollination.

The nectar bees collect passes from bee to bee until it loses much of its water. It is then stored in the comb, which is made from wax excreted by glands in a honey bee’s head! Fun scientific facts occur throughout the book, including information on the “waggle” dance bees perform to ‘tell’ other bees where, and at what distance, nectar-bearing flowers can be found.

Why did journalist Shell choose to write about bees as middle-school environmental fiction? “It’s a matriarchal society. That appealed to me,” she says. “And middle grades are the last chance you have to reach kids and get them interested in science, engineering and math. If you don’t hook them by seventh grade, you have probably lost them.”

Shell’s main goal is to teach kids about honey bees and their importance while offering Power Point presentations with animated slides to kids kid in upper elementary and middle schools. One girls’ reading club in Baltimore chose Bees on the Roof as its September book to read. Shell did an interview with the club that was broadcast on a kids’ radio show.

Says Shell: “I love honeybees. I wanted to offer kids an interesting fictional story in which I could weave in facts about this fascinating insect that appealed to me.”

Bees on the Roof is excellently written, a fun and easy read for middle-grade kids with fascinating facts about honey bee society. It’s a definite must-have!

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published January 18, 2017

Photos to enlarge

Bees on the Roof by Robbie Shell, photo courtesy Robbie Shell

Author Robbie Shell, photo courtesy Robbie Shell

Robbie and her brother's hives that inspired the book, photo courtesy Robbie Shell

Honey bees with honeycomb and honey, photo copyright Ken Walters, Yellow Bee LLC, NJ

Robbie visiting bee hives in Cuba, photo courtesy Robbie Shell

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