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The Bee Tree

School Library Journal
"Readers can see the real Pak Teh, the towering trees, and the huge comb wax nests, and learn more about the indigenous people, the giant honey bees, and the rainforest ecosystem."
"In the Malaysian rainforest, 13-year-old Nizam prepares for his clan’s annual honey hunt. This year he will climb behind his grandfather, Pak Teh, more than 120 feet up the tualang trees in the black of night to the branches where giant bees have built massive combs more than six feet wide. Before they start, the honey hunters recount the traditional tale that still guides their hunting practices. In fact, the entire process is infused with reverence for the gifts of the forest and respect for the insects that produce the golden honey.

After the successful hunt, Nizam’s designation as the next honey hunter leaves him proud but reverent. Mirocha’s illustrations incorporate details of Malaysian culture and the lush landscape of the rainforest. Despite the fact that much of the story takes place at night, the illustrations are bright enough for group sharing.

Equally fascinating are the concluding eight pages of information and photographs. Readers can see the real Pak Teh, the towering trees, and the huge comb wax nests, and learn more about the indigenous people, the giant honey bees, and the rainforest ecosystem. Although the story can stand alone, this additional information adds significantly to the book’s effectiveness. For a look at a honey hunt in another part of the world, see April Pulley Sayre’s If You Should Hear a Honey Guide (Houghton, 2000), which is set in East Africa."
- July 3, 2007 
Deborah Menkart
"...a book about the environment includes both nature and people."
"I took [The Bee Tree] home for the evening to read to my six-year-old son Diego who loved the story and illustrations. He was most fascinated by the page where the bees are all over but do not sting the people and instead follow the light of the sparks to the ground. Back in the office everyone was impressed by the illustrations – and that a book about the environment includes both nature and people. We have been hard pressed to find books for young children about the environment that include people, and that include institutional sources of the problem."
- Executive Director,  Teaching for Change" target="_blank">Visit Website
Kirkus Reviews
"They turned their unique experience into a fictional picture book with a coming-of-age theme filled with wondrous double-spread paintings…"
"In Malaysia, the yearly wild-honey hunts take place on moonless nights when the bees can’t see the men who climb the tualang, the tall bee trees. The hunters take special care not to upset the ecosystem that supports the giant honey bees, since the pollinating keystone species affects many of the plants and animals of the region. The authors and illustrator watched as a traditional hunter Pak Teh and his grandson, Nizam, ascended the tall ladders, lit the flames that scare the bees away for a few hours and harvested the honey from the heavy combs attached to the tree limbs.

They turned their unique experience into a fictional picture book with a coming-of-age theme filled with wondrous double-spread paintings, depicting daily life today in a Malaysian village (the boy wears a T-shirt with an 'All Stars' slogan; the grandfather wears traditional clothing), the rich rainforest, the legends of the honey bees and the stages of the honey hunt. The story is replete with authentic details and the fascinating factual backmatter includes small paintings from the artist’s sketchbook and photographs. (Picture book. 7-11)"
- May 1, 2007 
Midwest Book Review 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
"A stunning children's picture book based on the real-life traditions of honey hunters."
"A stunning children's picturebook based on the real-life traditions of honey hunters

Entomologist Stephen Buchmann and award-winning children's book author Diana Cohn present The Bee Tree, a stunning children's picturebook based on the real-life traditions of honey hunters of Malaysia's indigenous people, who use special techniques to collect honey from dangerous, 1-inch long giant honeybees of the rainforest. Though fierce, the giant wild honeybees are also a critical link of the rainforest's ecology, and are deeply respected by the honey hunters.

The Bee Tree recounts the legend of Hitam Manis, a servant girl who became transformed into a bee, and tells of the many precautions honey hunters take to avoid being stung (such as collecting honey only on moonless nights, and sending sparks to the ground to lure away guardian bees from the honeycomb), all through the eyes of a young boy being schooled in ancient ways. Illustrator Paul Mirocha made five trips to Malaysia to perfectly capture the color, life, and near-magical wonder of the Malaysian rainforest and its bees in this wonderful picturebook, supplemented at the end with a section of amazing facts about Malaysia's rainforests, bee trees with up to one hundred bee honeycombs, and honey hunters. Highly recommended."
- May 13, 2007 
Children's Literature
"...an excellent resource to include in an integrated curriculum unit about the rain forests or about pourquoi legends."
"Set in the rain forests of Malaysia, a young boy, Nizam, tells how he replaced his grandfather as the person responsible for harvesting honey from the giant tualang tree. As Nizam confesses the mixture of pride and fear with which he undertakes the 120 foot climb to the bee hives, he also recounts the legend his people have told about how the honey bees came to make their nests up so high. An eight-page reference article at the end of book indicates that the beliefs and rituals the boy reports are accurate representations of those followed by the indigenous people of this region. Photographs accompany the article, while the story itself is illustrated in full colored drawings.

While the people in the story are somewhat stylized, the drawings of the bees and vegetation are clearly meant to approach scientific illustrations. Like The Great Kapok Tree, this book is meant to trigger children's thinking about ecology and the environment. But the structure of The Bee Tree is more complex and may be challenging for primary age children. However, it could be an excellent resource to include in an integrated curriculum unit about the rain forests or about pourquoi legends."
EGA Journal (Environmental Grantmakers Association)
"A stunning account of a remarkable traditional honey-gathering system in the Malaysian rainforest, it’s presented as an engaging tale about the passing of the craft from generation to generation."
"The Bee Tree, a children’s story for marveling adults, is a fabulous book. It’s magical realism with fewer pages and more pictures. A stunning account of a remarkable traditional honey-gathering system in the Malaysian rainforest, it’s presented as an engaging tale about the passing of the craft from generation to generation.

Here is a boy, Nizam, becoming a man through learning to become both traditional and contemporary… a boy in his 'All Star' T-shirt and sneakers knowing that one should visit the rainforest at night 'like one is entering a neighbor’s house'… gathering 600 lbs of honey from a 115-foot tree from the largest honey-producing bee species in the world: the migratory Apis dorsata.

Researched and written by EGA’s own Diana Cohn of the Panta Rhea Foundation and entomologist Dr. Stephen Buchmann of The Forgotten Pollinators fame, The Bee Tree offers a delicious level of detail and authenticity, including an extensive afterword. (Diana is a beekeeper herself, and the author of other remarkable children’s books such as Mr. Goethe’s Garden.) And the illustrations by Paul Mirocha are extraordinary. Many EGA members will recognize his precise, sparse illuminations of the Southwestern desert landscapes in which he lives. After five trips to the Malaysian rainforest, Mirocha has found a way to fit all the life there into these shimmering pages, jostling with each other and with the dreams and memories of Nizam and his grandfather, Pak Teh.

The Bee Tree is quite unforgettable, at least for this honey-gatherer. Let no son, daughter, niece, nephew, or grandchild be untouched by this masterpiece of sensibility for the planet."
- Ken Wilson, The Christensen Fund, April 1, 2007 
David M. Schwartz
—author of How Much is a Million

"A beautifully-illustrated book that opens a window on a fascinating culture and a remarkable biological phenomenon."
The Malaysian Star
"... the readers, become part of a magical world of special relationships, enduring beliefs and amazing beauty."
A magical coming of age

"The Bee Tree is a tale about how a young man undergoes a rite of passage that has been passed down for many generations – that of becoming a honey-hunter. It is a rite with ancient cultural roots and deep respect for the natural world with which it is connected. This natural world comprises not only the giant honey bees which produce the honey and the mighty trees where they make their nests, but the broader rainforest ecosystem of Tasik Pedu of which they are a part.

Beautifully written and remarkably illustrated, the story follows the heart-warming journey of a teenager in learning the skills and rituals associated with this rite. In the process he, and the readers, become part of a magical world of special relationships, enduring beliefs and amazing beauty.

Interestingly, at the back of the book is substantial background information on the Tasik Pedu rainforest, the bees and the honey-hunters on which the book is based (Targeted at a North American readership, this write-up actually begins with a section on Malaysia). Children will enjoy The Bee Tree and hopefully learn from this inspirational tribute to the rainforest stewards of Tasik Pedu."
- March 4, 2007 
The Malaysian Star
"... 'one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, offering more interesting subjects for my art than I could ever completely explore.'"
Picturing Pedu

"When artist, photographer and illustrator Paul Mirocha first visited Tasik Pedu, he thought that it was 'one of the most beautiful spots on Earth, offering more interesting subjects for my art than I could ever completely explore.' Trained is as a scientific illustrator, Mirocha specialises in drawing and painting plants and animals that are accurate, detailed and well researched. At the same time, he tries to express their beauty.

In producing the artwork for The Bee Tree, Mirocha wanted Kedahans to feel at home when they saw the book. 'The difficult part was getting all the reference photos, drawings, et cetera, that I needed because I knew I would have to do most of the final painting back in my studio in Tucson, Arizona,' he said. 'Not only was I living on the opposite side of the globe, it was a desert. There are no plants in common. I also wanted to make things culturally correct for Malaysians.' Therefore on his numerous visits to Tasik Pedu, he only used plants and animals from the region, drawing from his photographs and sketchbook.

He also fashioned the characters after real life honey hunters, local friends and collaborators, including Pak Teh and one of his honey-hunting 'heirs', grandson Shukor Ayob. In addition, Mirocha immersed himself in local culture and customs. Having illustrated over 20 children’s picture and pop-up books, as well as modern nature tomes, The Bee Tree project has deepened his fascination with the tropics.

'This was my first time in Asia and I realised that the world was at least twice as large as I had imagined! I was almost overwhelmed, I felt so filled with beautiful impressions.'"
- S.L. Wong, March 4, 2007 
The Malaysian Star
"...the book is the result of a coming together of extraordinary people from different backgrounds."
Telling the hunter’s tale
The indigenous way of honey-gathering is immortalised in a beautiful children’s book.


"They are the honey hunters, rural folk who climb the tall trees on which the bees nest, to harvest the sweet honey and beeswax. They brave vertigo-inducing heights of up to 70m and colonies of 40,000 to 80,000 bees with deadly stings. But they are armed with precious knowledge, techniques and rituals, which have been passed down for generations.

'I fell under the spell of the rainforests, the bees and especially Pak Teh'—DR. STEPHEN BUCHMANN
These fascinating hunters are the basis for a beautiful new children’s book published in the US called The Bee Tree.

The book is about the passing down of the honey-hunting tradition to the younger generation, which, among other things, involves climbing a giant Tualang tree (Koompasia excelsa) – the bee tree.

Taking almost a decade to be actualised, the book is the result of a coming together of extraordinary people from different backgrounds. Authored by Americans Dr Stephen Buchmann, 54, entomologist and environmental consultant, and Diana Cohn, 48, an award-winning children’s book writer and hobbyist beekeeper, it features wonderful artwork by scientific illustrator Paul Mirocha, 52.

A key collaborator in this venture is Datuk Dr Makhdzir Mardan, professor of apiculture and pollination biology at Universiti Putra Malaysia. It was at an international bee conference at Tasik Pedu organised in 1994 by Prof Makhdzir that Dr Buchmann was introduced to Salleh Mohammed Noor (Pak Teh). The octogenarian head of a honey hunting clan, Pak Teh has been honey hunting since 1964. One of his credos is that 'as long as there is the rainforest, there will be bees, and as long as there are bees, there will be honey, and as long as there is honey, there will be honey hunters.'

Realising this relationship of honey hunting to rainforest conservation, the two scientists therefore decided to write a scientific book on Pak Teh's clan. This evolved into a children’s fiction book because 'we need the people in the Pedu Lake area to protect the forest, and children are the best people to whom to get the message across,' said Prof Makhdzir.

Children must recognise these honey-hunters as local heroes and emulate the respect the men have for the rainforest. This is especially important in light of the impending threats to both the rainforest and traditional honey hunting. 'They (children) are the future custodians of the rainforest and the honey gathering culture.'

Dr Buchmann added that The Bee Tree was his way (with Cohn and Mirocha) of 'immortalising' the honey hunting experiences, which affected him deeply. 'I fell under the spell of the rainforests, the bees and especially Pak Teh, who was the first traditional Apis dorsata honey hunter I had ever met.' Like Prof Makhzdir, he believed conserving the honey bees involved keeping large tracts of forest and their food plants intact as well as by spreading knowledge of this through education and eco-tourism. Dr Buchmann has authored or co-authored 150 scientific papers and eight books and is active in international pollination research, conservation and policies to protect the world’s pollinators and the plants they pollinate.

To illustrate the book, Dr. Buchmann roped in Mirocha, who enthusiastically bought into the project after experiencing a honey hunt. After producing the first few drafts of The Bee Tree, Dr Buchmann sought editorial advice from Cohn, with whom he had set up an organisation on public education about pollination ecology and indigenous beekeeping practices.

Cohn, who had produced three other children’s books at that time, recounted, 'Steve’s skills were in writing for adults and the story needed so much attention in terms of structure, story arc and character development that it was clear that the story needed to be transformed with a different ‘voice’ and that collaboration was necessary.' She began by reading as much as possible about the Malaysian honey hunters, at the same time feeling her way into what a believable character would be for a young audience.

When she had a manuscript close to completion, she visited Pak Teh and the honey hunters, witnessing 'the deep reverence of the honey hunters and the ceremonies associated with the honey hunt. I was graced with being able to see this ancient tradition.' She thereafter rewrote parts of the story. Cohn’s agent then set them up with a publisher with whom she had worked, Cinco Puntos Press, who agreed to the very unusual step of accepting a manuscript with an artist. The final product, is proud testament to the hard work that went into it.

Last month, Dr Buchmann, accompanied by Prof Makhdzir and Mirocha, presented a copy of the book to Kedah’s Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah at the Anak Bukit Palace in Alor Star. Certainly, the effort has pleased both Pak Teh and one of his grandsons who had inherited the tradition, Nizam Mustapha, 28.

'Seronok jugak (I feel happy),' cackled Pak Teh in his thick Kedah accent.

'I’m glad that people are doing this research,' chipped in Nizam. 'If people don’t know about this, who knows, in 10 years, all this will be gone.'"
- S.L. Wong, March 4, 2007 
The Malaysia Star
"The book has vibrant illustrations by [the author's] colleague Paul Mirocha."
It’s all about bees and trees

"SUNGAI PETANI: A bee hunter family from Pedu, Kedah, and the tualang tree that can grow up to 80m tall are research subjects for an entomologist from the United States. Dr Stephen Buchmann from the University of Arizona has incorporated what he learnt here in a children’s book to be launched in the United States soon.

Bug’s tales: Dr Buchmann showing some of the illustrations and pictures in his book.“I have made eight trips to Pedu since attending a conference on bees in 1995 at Universiti Putra Malaysia,” he said.

He said that he had spent several years commuting between Arizona and Pedu to complete his research on Pak Teh, a bee hunter he had befriended. The book titled The Bee Tree has colourful illustrations and pictures. Dr Buchmann said: “The Bee Tree tells the story of Pak Teh, his years of scaling the tualang tree to collect bee hives and the passing on of his livelihood to his grandson Izam.”

“I’m doing a study on bees, flowers and the conservation of rainforests. Malaysia has among the oldest rainforests in Pedu where the tualang trees grow higher than the eye can see. These trees draw the world’s largest honeybees to build their colony of hives,” he said. Dr Buchmann said he hoped to do his bit in promoting Malaysia’s rainforests and bee-collecting culture in America. “Malaysia is relatively unknown in the United States and I hope to introduce the book to the Education Department there as it will be interesting reading material for children.”

The book has vibrant illustrations by his colleague Paul Mirocha. Dr Buchmann, accompanied by UPM’s Assoc Prof Dr Mahdir Mardan and Mirocha, also presented a copy of the book to Kedah’s Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah during an audience with the ruler at the Anak Bukit Palace in Alor Star recently."
- February 21, 2007 

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