To Bee or Not to Bee

Author and illustrator Douglas Florian is buzzing about his newest book.

Mar 22, 2013 | By Cameron Keady
DON HEINY FOR TIME FOR KIDS

Douglas Florian teaches readers about bees in a new book of poems called UnBEElievables.

Douglas Florian loves writing about animals. With poetry and painting, Florian illustrates the natural world around us. In his newest book, UnBEElievables, the picture-book creator takes us inside a honeybee hive. But don’t worry—you won’t get stung! Each poem is paired with a colorful image that illustrates a different type of bee and its role in the colony. From the worker bees to the drones to the queen bee herself, every page is full of fun and interesting facts about these social insects.

TFK:

How do you create your illustrations?

DOUGLAS FLORIAN:

I like to try different mediums, predominantly watercolor, colored pencils and gouache paints. Gouache is a very thick type of paint. All the paintings and drawings for UnBEElievables were done on paper bags from the grocery store. I love the texture of them and how well they work for collaging. 

TFK:

When brainstorming for a story, which comes first: the images or the poems?

FLORIAN:

Usually the poems come first. For a book of 21 poems, for example, I’ll actually write about 50 poems first. Although I sometimes have images in my mind to go along with the words, I have to choose which ones I want to include in the book.

TFK:

Many of your books, including UnBEElievables, are about insects and animals. How did these become your favorite subjects?

FLORIAN:

There is so much variety and humor in the animal kingdom. People have a lot of knowledge about animals and collective ideas about animals that are fun to explore in writing. Animals are just so interesting. When I research, I find out so many new and amazing facts. The poem is often half written by the time I am done with my research.

TFK:

Why did you choose bees as the subject of your newest book?

FLORIAN:

I saw recently in the news that many bee colonies are dying out. Scientists believe this to be caused by various diseases. I wanted to create awareness and learn more about bees after hearing this. So many of the fruits and vegetables we eat are dependent on pollination by honeybees. If bees disappear, so will much of our food.

TFK:

Do you have a favorite bee?

FLORIAN:

One of my favorites is the poem and painting about the worker bees. I wanted the painting to be very playful and light. These bees have to work all day in the hive, and it’s kind of like a factory. I like the texture of this illustration and the way it seems to be humming. And even though these bees have to work very hard, they manage to smile.