Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Australian author Alison McLennan and her beautiful picture book Hotel for Bees.
About Alison McLennan
Alison McLennan has written three picture books, Hotel for Bees (State Library of Qld 2020), Growing Pains (EK Books 2021) and Great and Small (Storytorch Press, coming October 2022). Her graphic novel, A Flood in the Village, was published by Library For All as part of their natural disaster education series. Her short stories have appeared in the School Magazine and the Spooktakular Stories Anthology. She is a proud member of SCBWI and Qld Writelinks, a mother of two teenagers and a fur baby. She is also a singer and voiceover artist.
About Hotel for Bees
Charlotte loves playing in the backyard with her little brother, but fuzzy flying things make Benji nervous so he always runs inside. One day, when Benji almost squishes a bee he finds in the kitchen, Charlotte teaches him all about how magical and important bees are. Together with their dad, they build a hotel for the little bee to live in, and then enjoy watching lots of bees move in. They decide to make more hotels for other people and spread the word about caring for bees.
What I like about Hotel for Bees
Hotel for Bees is a delightful picture book which encourages children to take an interest in the world about them and encourages them to show kindness towards and care for nature, especially bees.
Children will easily identify with the children in the story. Whether they are afraid of bees and other tiny crawling and flying creatures or not, they probably know someone who is.
In a non-didactic way, this book shows children how to find out information about the natural world and provides them with suggestions that can be easily implemented by any family. The kindness that the children show to their neighbours, as well as the bees, is an added feature.
The vibrant illustrations of Erin Dunne make the book visually appealing.
Hi Alison. Welcome to readilearn. Let’s find out a little about you. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I studied journalism at uni, so I’ve always loved writing, but I was terrible at creative writing in primary school, believe it or not, so I discovered a love of writing stories very late in life. When I had my two children, I was reading lots of books to them and I fell in love with the artform of picture books. The idea of writing my own picture books excited me, so I began making up stories for my daughter before she went to sleep at night and then started writing a few down. It took me a good fifteen years to figure out what I was doing and get published. Now I’m obsessed with writing for children and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?
I like to write in my office at home and I can only write when my family are all out and there is quiet.
What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?
I write all my stories on my laptop, but I scribble lots of ideas down in a notebook that I carry around with me and take to conferences and workshops.
When do you write?
Sometimes I can go for months at a time without writing, and then all of a sudden lots of ideas start coming to me at once and I’ll be writing constantly. Usually, the best ideas come to me at 4am in the morning when I’d rather be asleep, or when I’m trying to get my kids off to school, which is extremely inconvenient.
Where do you get your ideas?
Sometimes things just pop into my head, other times I’ll see a funny or interesting video on YouTube or an amusing animal story on the morning news. Sometimes my kids will tell me funny or embarrassing stories from school, and at times I use memories from when I was a kid. Sometimes I’ll hear a word or a collection of words and I’ll think, that’s a great title for a book, so I’ll write it in my notebook, and eventually get around to writing a story to go with it. Sometimes I use idea prompts that I’m given at writing workshops, that come in the form of a picture or a beginning sentence.
Do you think of the story in your head before you write it?
Sometimes I do. Sometimes I’ll lie in bed and the story will take shape in my head and then I’ll race to my computer and write it down before it wanders off. At other times, I’ll just have a title or a vague idea and I’ll sit at my computer and not know what the story is going to be until it writes itself.
What gave you the idea for Hotel for Bees?
I was watching Youtube videos one day when I should have been doing housework, and I came across a video of a lovely old man making bee hotels. I had no idea such a thing existed, or that some bees are solitary, don’t live in hives with a queen, and need somewhere cosy to live. I thought, a hotel for bees, what an amazing idea, that would make a terrific picture book. I wrote the idea down in a notebook, and then a year later, I wrote the story.
What do you like best about Hotel for Bees?
My favourite thing about the story is that a little boy starts out afraid of bees, but thanks to his big sister, he learns how magical they are, and comes to love them. Then he passes that love and education onto other people.
Do you like the way Erin Dunne has illustrated your story?
Oh my goodness, I ADORE her illustrations. I think she has captured the idyllic Queensland backyard childhood to perfection. I love the way she has included native Qld plants, as well as Teddy Bear Bees and Blue Banded Bees, and has drawn them in such an adorable way, that kids will absolutely fall in love with them. I think the bright colour palette she has used really attracts kids to the book, and they really enjoy spotting all the different bugs on the pages.
How did you feel when you wrote Hotel for Bees?
I’m really passionate about bees and getting the message out about how endangered they are. I felt good about making my protagonist a little female wildlife warrior who educates everyone around her about the importance of bees. I was hopeful that the story would be published and that children who might have been afraid of bees, might read it, and end up loving them.
How do you hope readers will feel?
I hope that little ones who are afraid of bees will end up loving them after reading the story. I hope they’ll feel empowered to teach their parents and friends about how magical bees are. I hope they’ll feel wonder and delight when they see the adorable bee illustrations.
How would you like teachers to present Hotel for Bees to children?
I think it’s fun to ask kids if they have seen bees in their backyard or at school. Teachers can ask their children if they know what sound a bee makes, and if they know where bees live. They can also show kids pictures of bee hotels and bee fountains and perhaps make one as a class. They can talk about what job bees do, and why it’s so important.
Are there any messages you would like them to discuss?
The main themes in Hotel For Bees are the importance of bees, what their job is, why it’s important to take care of them and how to do that. You can buy bee hotels, but it’s much more fun to make your own. Could you make one with your Mum and Dad at home? Could you teach your parents about how important bees are? Could you ask your parents to help you plant some native flowers in the backyard or drop the hint that they should stop using pesticides on the garden?
Also, how curiosity can lead to empathy, which leads to kindness and how this can help you overcome your fears.
Is there something you’re afraid of? Maybe if you do a bit of research into it and become curious, you might find there’s not so much to be afraid of after all. Is there another child at school you don’t know very well or maybe don’t like? Could you become curious about them? Sometimes, the more you get to know someone, the more you come to like them.
Do you have any advice for children as writers?
I didn’t love creative writing when I was a child and thought I didn’t have any imagination. So, if I can become a writer, then anyone can. Writing just takes practice, like anything else. The more you do it, the better you get at it. The important thing is to have fun and write about what interests you.
What is your favourite picture book?
My favourite picture book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. It’s about unconditional love.
Who is your favourite author? What do you like about his or her work?
That’s an impossible question lol! I have way too many in adult and children’s books. When it comes to picture books, I love authors who make me cry or laugh out loud in bookstores. I love authors who write books with both heart and humour.
Thank you, Alison for sharing your motivation for writing Hotel for Bees and letting us know a little about your writing process. We wish you many happy readers for Hotel for Bees and your other books.
Find out more about Alison McLennan
From her website: www.alisonmclennan.org
Or connect with her on social media
Hotel for Bees is available for loan at every public library in Queensland (It was published as part of the Stories For Little Queenslanders series.)
Alison’s recent release Growing Pains, about curiosity, empathy, kindness and overcoming fears can be purchased at www.ekbooks.org/product/growing-pains.
This interview is now available free, in a ready-to-print format, in Literacy Resources Author Spotlight Author Spotlight – Alison McLennan, along with interviews with other authors. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.
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