Omar, the Bees and Me

Omar, the Bees and Me
Helen Mortimer and Katie Cottle
Owlet Press

One of my favourite weekend walks takes me past a goat willow or pussy willow tree that my partner and I call ‘the buzzing tree’. In spring it’s alive with bees and you can hear them busily working long before you reach the tree. You can almost hear a similar buzz emanating from the cover of this new picture book.

Said buzz is set in motion when newcomer Omar takes a slice of his mum’s special honey cake into school for show and tell. He talks of how once upon a time back in Syria his grandpa who grew apricot trees and jasmine, was a keeper of bees.

This sets teacher Mr Ellory-Jones thinking and before long the members of his class have decorated the entire corridor outside their classroom with paper jasmine flowers and the children are pretending to be buzzy bees. He also tells his pupils about the importance of bees and of growing bee-friendly flowers for them to feed on. The children’s questions prompt further explanation and during playtime, having observed the greyness of her surroundings, Maisie (the story’s narrator) comes up with a wonderful idea. “We should make a REAL bee corridor … All the way from our school to the park next to my grandad’s garden. He’s got a beehive!”

With the backing of their teacher, the class order packets of wildflower seeds. Seeds they sprinkle into envelopes with growing instructions, requesting recipients to put the pots on their windowsills.

Next day operation delivery is carried out and then the waiting starts.
When spring finally arrives, there’s evidence that people have done as asked …

and by the time summer comes two good things have happened. Maisie and Omar have become best friends and there are wild flowers in abundance stretching from school to park. Grandad too is thrilled to have an abundance of bees in his garden.

A new school year starts and now it’s Maisie’s turn to talk at show and tell: her chosen object – a jar of honey from her grandad’s bees. Hurrah! Can you guess what Omar brings into school to share the following day … (There’s even a recipe included).

With themes of sustainability, the environment, intergenerational relationships, and connectedness, this is a smashing book to introduce young children to the importance of protecting and enhancing the natural world, in particular our precious bees.

Katie Cottle’s inclusive, mixed media illustrations complement the story beautifully: she captures the mood and feeling of the classroom, street and garden perfectly.

The Blue Giant

The Blue Giant
Katie Cottle
Pavilion Books

Picture book messages about helping to save the environment come in all shapes and forms.

In Katie Cottle’s second eco-story the messenger takes the form of an enormous wave that suddenly rises up out of the sea just as Meera and her mother are settling down for a relaxing day on the beach.

This blue giant urgently wants to communicate with them and its message is a vital one asking for their help.
Donning their diving suits and following in their small boat, mother and daughter pursue the wave and discover that the ocean is awash with rubbish of all kinds and that many sea creatures are in great danger.

After a day of hard work a great deal remains to be done to clear up the pollution – way too much for just two people.

The following morning Meera is back on the beach and the next, but now she has enlisted the help of some of her friends.

They in turn enlist some of theirs and so it continues …

The narrative concludes with a list of half a dozen suggested ways in which we can all help by reducing our consumption of single-use plastics.

Katie’s powerful images convey the plastic pollution problem in a manner that young children will easily relate to, particularly those of the sea creatures caught up in the debris. Stories such as this one are a great way to galvanise youngsters into action.

The Green Giant

The Green Giant
Katie Cottle
Pavilion Children’s Books

The natural world and our part in conserving it has never been more in the media than now with children marching for the environment and against climate change; in tandem there’s been a burgeoning of conservation/environment non-fiction books recently. Less so of fictional ones, so it’s especially good to see Katie Cottle’s debut picture book.

Bea is a little girl who goes to visit her garden-loving Grandad in the country; Bea when we first meet her, seems wedded to her tablet while her Dalmatian, Iris likes nothing better than chasing things.

When Iris gives chase to a ginger moggy, Bea sets aside her tablet and follows her dog, over the fence and into the garden next door.

The greenhouse she finds there is full of plants. From the rustling leaves leaps the cat but could something else be watching the girl, casting an enormous shadow over her?

Before her stands a huge green giant, friendly seeming and with a story he wants to share. Bea learns that long ago back in the city he germinated becoming a happy seedling but then as the city air became increasingly toxic, he was forced to flee, eventually finding refuge in the roomy greenhouse wherein he now stays.

It’s a happy summer Bea spends with her green friends but all too soon, the holiday draws to an end.

The giant gives his human friend a parting gift – handful of seeds.

Back in the city once more, Bea is struck by its greyness and she knows just what to do.

Thus with the help of sunlight and water, operation transformation begins to take place … Perhaps it might one day be a place which her giant friend would be happy to visit.

The disconnect with the natural world that has come about in part due to the digital gadget obsession of many youngsters is cleverly understated, while the importance of caring for our precious natural environment comes through more urgently in Katie’s eco-story. There are definite links between them and it’s up to us as educators/parents to set a positive example to youngsters before it’s too late.

A book to share, discuss and act upon at home and in school.