I do adore passionate people. Felicity Marshall is the Australian author and illustrator of two children’s books about bees – ‘Hello, Honey Bee’ which is a fictional tale about a queen bee meeting the Big Queen, and also a fact-filled non-fiction book, ‘The Very Clever Bee.’ Her passion and respect for bees is contagious. Here, she answers some questions about the inspiration behind her books.
Introducing Felicity Marshall.
What inspired you to write two children’s books about bees?
The truth is, I have been interested in bees from the day we found a swarm in our paddock when I was about 10 years old. The local apiarist who captured the swarm rewarded us with bantam chickens (that bred like crazy) and several jars of honey fresh from his hives (pure bliss!). After that day our family renounced commercial honey and walked up the road to the beekeeper’s property to buy fresh honey. I was fascinated by everything at his apiary – the hives, the bees, the delicious smell, even the apiarist’s quiet wife who had enormous brown eyes, just like a bee and who had a swarm of little, brown-eyed children buzzing around her. We lived in a semi-rural part of Western Australia and the apiarist’s honeys varied from rich dark brown Jarrah honey to light golden Karri honey. We tried his many flavours over the years. That’s when I learned that the colour and flavour of honey depends on the flowers visited by the bees. I also learned that bees sometimes follow the beekeeper to retrieve their honey that he had removed from the hive. He was very relaxed about leaving the door to his honey processing room open, and in they came! I don’t advise this. They were a bit cross…
Fast forward about 40 years. Remembering my childhood fascination with bees and my growing awareness of threats to bees and the natural world, I enrolled in a class on beekeeping. I convinced my partner Marc to come along. He was reluctant – a coastal bloke who needed to at least glimpse the ocean each day to feel calm, but he came along. I watched a light bulb appear over his head as the day progressed, and now he is a totally dedicated , knowledgeable beekeeper with more than 40 hives. And despite a lot of muscle building in the early days of our beekeeping, (a full box of honey weighs about 30kgs) I’m now a mere assistant to him. Interesting how things work out! I have to say here that his superior strength and extreme patience (where bees are concerned) have meant that nowadays he does most of the heavy lifting, while I assist, keep the smoker going and help load and unload the ute. Beekeeping is secondary to my art and writing, but I love the days we spend together working on the beehives and keeping the bees happy, healthy and tirelessly industrious. It is very calming…
Who are your heroes?
I have several heroes in my life, but the most outstanding is Sir David Attenborough whose tireless worldwide exploration of all the natural world has revealed its wonders to us and raised awareness of the astonishing beauty and fragility of life. My second hero is Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and writer, who in her famous book ‘Silent Spring’ published in 1962, predicted a future dire state of the world due to farmers’ use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides without considering the toxic effect to the environment, to all animals, birds, reptiles and insects and eventually humans.
Also among my heroes are the tiny humble creatures that work constantly to uphold the healthy ecology of our soils and plants and are often invisible or overlooked -the earthworm, the dung beetle and many other beneficial insects, butterflies, moths and grubs.
*Rachel Carson’s book is now even more relevant than ever before as industrialised farming grows and so does chemical use. Fortunately, there is a groundswell of people wanting to save our planet from destruction by embracing ethical and natural farming practices to regenerate the soil, eliminate poisons from our environment and restore habitats for all creatures. Our insect pollinators, especially the many species of bees are benefitting from these actions and beekeepers are growing in number.
What is your hope for the future of your book?
As an artist and beekeeper, The Very Clever Bee is my small but heartfelt contribution to the education of future generations about the importance of pollinators, especially bees, to the survival of life and the security of our food supply. Children are our future scientists, policymakers and custodians of planet Earth. They are endlessly curious, and bees are endlessly fascinating! And bees provide humankind with so much more than honey, things we see in everyday life, from beeswax candles and cosmetics to medicinal honey and propolis.
I hope that children will see that we can all make a difference to the health of our beautiful planet and that nature is our greatest source of joy and awe.
© Felicity Marshall 2021
Teacher’s notes for both books are available on Felicity Marshall’s website:
Once you are on the page you can click on Teacher’s Notes on the bottom of the page.
*In addition to Teacher’s Notes, teachers may assist older children to explore a little of Silent Spring and compare it to the state of the world 50 years after Rachel Carson’s predictions.