Media

Q & A with Scholastic

I sat down with my amazing editor at Scholastic, Amanda Shih, so she could ask me some questions about my upcoming book due to be released in March 2021, The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees.

Amanda: Hi, Dana!

Dana: Hi, Amanda!

Amanda: Let’s talk about your upcoming book, The Beekeepers. Can you give us a one-sentence summary of the book?

Dana: Sure. Let’s see…how about: Across the globe, humans have impacted the health and habitat of bumble bees, while taking them for granted, such that now we need to make sure we don’t lose them forever.

Amanda: That sums up the book nicely! You’ve researched bees for much of your adult life. What inspired you to write this book now?

Dana: Since doing my research with bumble bees, their situation has become quite dire. I felt they needed a voice and people needed to know that they are in trouble. At the same time, my children are now 7 and 10, and I’m seeing the world through their eyes. And of course we talk about bumble bees! So I thought, what better audience for a book than middle grade children? Especially since one day they will be making decisions that will impact the environment.

Amanda: What was the research process like, and how did you distill your expertise for a middle grade audience?

Dana: The research process was so much fun! I actually had to do a lot of research, since my area of expertise is bumble bee memory and behaviour, and I wanted to include topics such as the effects of pesticides on bumble bees, Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees, and the commercial sale of bumble bees.

There was quite a variety in the research process. Some days I would be searching university library databases for stuffy academic articles, and every once in a while I’d come across some cool research. So I’d email the researcher to ask them questions, and sometimes I’d ask them for an online interview. Scientists are very helpful, especially when they hear that it’s for a children’s book.

One very unexpected source of information was Twitter. A lot of scientists have Twitter accounts and tweet about their new research findings, and even post pictures from their field work. Twitter was how I found several of the scientists I feature in my book.

In terms of distilling the information for a middle grade audience, I found it helpful to read other nonfiction books for middle grade kids, to see how other authors took complex topics or information and explained it in a clear way that was easy to understand. Also, as I wrote, I constantly pictured myself trying to explain the information to my kids, so that what I wrote could be understood by them.

Amanda: You talk a lot in the book about how the plight of bumble bees influences human life. Can you share a few ways we’re affected by what happens to them?

Dana: Sure. One thing is that certain crops such as tomatoes and blueberries need a special type of pollination called buzz pollination. Bumble bees can do it but honeybees can’t. During buzz pollination the bumble bee grabs onto part of the flower with its legs and mouthparts and shakes its flight muscles really fast. It’s kind of like shaking an apple tree to make the apples fall, only it’s shaking the flower to get the pollen out. If bumble bees were to disappear we could still have tomatoes, but people would have to pollinate the tomato plants by hand. This is done by using a contraption that looks like an electric toothbrush, and they have to buzz each individual flower. It’s very time consuming and labour intensive. So we would likely see a substantial increase in the price of not only tomatoes, but all of the products that are made from tomatoes, like pizza sauce, pasta sauce, and ketchup.

But I think it’s really important to realize that bumble bees play a critical role in the ecosystem. They pollinate a number of wild plants that other animals use for their homes, for food, and for protection. If bumble bees were to disappear then many animals we know, including the more well-known mammals, would be in jeopardy. So it’s important to consider the impact of bumble bees beyond the service that they provide to humans.

Amanda: Okay, last question. Why do you think it’s important for kids and anyone else to read this book, and what do you hope they’ll take away from it?

Dana: In The Beekeepers I talk about how amazing bumble bees are. They can solve problems that they don’t encounter in nature, there is evidence that they might have emotions, and there is also evidence that they might also have mental pictures. That’s incredible! Especially when you consider how small bumble bees are. So I hope readers are left with a sense of wonder for bumble bees and for the animal kingdom in general. We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of learning about the mental world of other animals.

I also hope that readers are given a sense of hope. I know that I talk a lot in the book about the effects of pesticides on bumble bees and the decline in their populations, but I also provide some simple things that readers can do to help. Plant native flowers in your garden. Leave parts of your yard messy in the fall and spring. Avoid using pesticides, and try to convince others to avoid using pesticides, too. These are small things but if enough people do them, it can add up to a big impact.

Also, I hope that when readers reach the age when they are making decisions about the environment, that they remember that their decisions can impact creatures as small as bumble bees.

Amanda: That’s all my questions. Thanks so much for joining me!

Dana: My pleasure! It was lots of fun.

To read more about buzz pollination and see it in action, click here.