116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Two local children’s book creators are creating a buzz with their latest book.
“Begin with a Bee” by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, who lives in Mount Vernon, and Phyllis Root and illustrated by Claudia McGehee, who lives in Iowa City, explores the life cycle and importance of the rusty patched bumble bee, the first bee in the United States to be placed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species list.
“I loved that the manuscript is from the perspective of the queen bee,” said McGehee. “The survival of the one queen bee is essential. In the spring and summer, she is responsible for creating the whole colony and I just love that. It felt like there was a female empowerment message. She is so powerful and I was attracted to that,” she said about being invited to do the illustrations for the book. “I love nature and everything in it so I was excited to learn more about bumblebees.”
The book has three authors, a relatively unique collaboration in the world of children’s book publishing. Briggs Martin said she met friends Liza Ketchum and Phyllis Root through Hamline University where the three teach at the low residency program in writing for children and young adults.
“We decided that we wanted to do a book together,” Briggs Martin said, noting that it was, of course, easier said than done. “We decided to do a book on the rusty-patched bumble bee and Phyllis wrote a draft. Then we spread the pages out on the floor to revise.”
After getting feedback from another writing friend, the group realized their story needed something to pull the whole story together.
“That’s when we realized we wanted to focus on the wonder of this tiny creature who is less than an inch for her entire body,” Briggs Martin said. “She hibernates the first winter of her life and when she wakes up the next spring she has in her tiny body everything she needs to make a colony of bees. It’s just amazing!”
There was much rewriting before they submitted the draft to University of Minnesota Press. “Collaborating is so much fun,” said Briggs Martin, noting that the trio hopes to work together in the future.
Briggs Martin and McGehee have teamed up before on their book “Creekfinding: A True Story,” so naturally they were excited to be connected on the project. Briggs Martin said she was thrilled and amazed when she was able to see the illustrations.
“I think Claudia did really an amazing job,” she said. “Every time I look at the book, I say ‘Claudia, this is so good.’ The whole book is so carefully researched by her, too, so the flowers that we mention in the text show up somewhere on the page.”
She noted the life cycle of the bee spread is particularly astounding.
McGehee acknowledged that the book required a lot of research because it was non-fiction text that required accurate illustrations.
“You have to do as much research as the author, if not more,” said McGehee. “I joked with my family that I earned a Ph. Bee working on this one.”
McGehee said she was surprised to learn about the nest of the bumblebee, which is distinctly unlike the orderly hive of a honey bee.
Briggs Martin feels this book is a particularly good one for Iowans to read as the rusty patched bumble bee, while endangered, can be seen in Iowa. McGehee said she was lucky to have spotted one her own garden while working on the illustrations for the book.
Both contributors said they hope this book leaves a lasting impact with readers, both young and old.
“I hope it fosters an admiration of such a small little creature that does so much, and the importance of pollinators,” said McGehee. The book’s back matter, in fact, offers ideas on how readers can support bees and their habitat.
“I hope they notice bees mores often,” said Briggs Martin. “I hope it brings them into a stronger connection with the natural world, the bees and the flowers, whether they live in a small town like I do or in Cedar Rapids or an even bigger city. That they have a more engaged experience with the natural world.”
“Begin with a Bee” by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root explores the life cycle and importance of the rusty patched bumble bee. (Illustration by Claudia McGehee, 2021 University of Minnesota Press)
Book reading at 10:30 a.m. June 5 at Next Page Books, 1105 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
Book reading at 4 p.m. June 12 at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City