May 15, 2024

The Bee Mother (Mothers of Xsan, Book 7)

Written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)
Illustrated by Natasha Donovan
HighWater Press
32 pp.
Ages 9-12
May 2024

Hetxw'ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson) and Natasha Donovan's latest volume in their illustrated non-fiction series, Mothers of Xsan, takes readers into the insect world for the first time, having previously highlighted mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians. Though the bee may be the smallest of the species showcased, it is no less significant.
From The Bee Mother, written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw, illus. by Natasha Donovan
The story begins with the recession of winter and the awakening of the bee mother, Nox Ap. The bee mother first looks to make a new home in a burrow or hollow tree. Also making new homes for themselves are the yellow jacket wasps and introduced honeybees. With new moons, Nox Ap builds a nest and lays her eggs which pupate and emerge as worker bees to collect pollen and nectar to sustain the nest. And once pollination is done, the bumblebee queen, as well as those of the yellow jacket and honeybee, must find an overwintering space.  
As with all books in the series, the life cycle of the bee is paramount, but The Bee Mother goes beyond a compendium of natural history facts. It is a story, and it all takes place within the Gitxsan Nation, Indigenous Peoples of the unceded territories of the Northwest Interior of British Columbia. Hetxw'ms Gyetxw ensures that the reader understands that the bee mother's story is not one of isolation. It is a story that includes her connection with the environment and those within it. As such, Hetxw'ms Gyetxw speaks of the contributions of Nox Ap and the other bee relatives, from the provision of honey and the pollination of flowers to help provide fruits and vegetables, to pest control and providing food for other species. They are a part of everything.
From The Bee Mother, written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw, illus. by Natasha Donovan
Hetxw'ms Gyetxw's text certainly speaks to life, as do Natasha Donovan's illustrations. They are vibrant, most especially in colour and shape. From the oomph of pinks and fullness of line and shape in the book's cover to the warmth of greens and golds in close-up art of the bees in their natural habitats, Natasha Donovan gives us stylized but realistic depictions of flowers and plants, bees and other animals, water and snow. Because the topic is the small bee, Natasha Donovan takes us up close to focus on the bee, creating art akin to macrophotography to ensure details are not missed.
From The Bee Mother, written by Hetxw'ms Gyetxw, illus. by Natasha Donovan
Because of the Indigenous roots of both the author and illustrator–Hetxw'ms Gyetxw is from the Gitxsan Nation and Natasha Donovan is Métis– The Bee Mother goes beyond a rehashing of STEM facts and takes on a new life of storytelling and appreciation for the connection of living things. In fact, because the Gitxsan Nation follows a matrilineal line which suggests that the stories come from the mothers, highlighting the mother of each species in the Mothers of Xsan series is both reasonable and respectful. (Hetxw'ms Gyetxw provides notes about the Gitxsan Nation and the Gitxsan Moons, along with a map of their territories.) And, by making the story specific and still broad, it demonstrates to readers  who the bee mother is and what she does and what happens every year, but also that she is part of something bigger. You can read it as a story of a life cycle but read beyond that and recognize that there is far more to the story that needs to be appreciated.

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Mothers of Xsan series
The Sockeye Mother (2018)
The Grizzly Mother (2019)
The Eagle Mother (2020)
The Frog Mother (2021)
The Wolf Mother (2021)
The Raven Mother (2022)
The Bee Mother (2024)

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