This book is called Ant and Bee because it is all about Bee and Ant.
Ant and Bee by Angela Banner
This one’s for B.
I heard about Ant and Bee long before I met them and, in the way that books from even our own childhoods do, they sounded like they were probably made up. Who were these characters Ant and Bee and their friend Kind Dog who B remembered so fondly? Did Ant and Bee really cry when their shopping got squashed? And was this so immeasurably sad to a young child that it would be remembered for the next twenty years? (Let’s not even talk about the ‘spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again’ in Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home. Or maybe, let’s, but another time…)
The Ant and Bee books were rumoured to be with his sister. But since we have a book with her name very clearly inscribed on its flyleaf, we didn’t ask. I looked for them online from time to time but I couldn’t find them. Then, towards the end of last year, there they were on the shelf in Waterstones, and very soon after that in our home. And, of course, it happens just as he said it did. Ant and Bee go shopping and Bee says that they must spend their last flat round coin buying a new pink square shopping bag. Ant doesn’t think the new bag is as good as their old shopping basket. The friends argue, the square bag is bought and the shopping all gets squashed into a square. It truly is rather sad.
Ant and Bee is a surreal skip through the alphabet, with a three letter word starting with each letter for little readers to sound out. These words are in red and are illustrated with a picture the first time that they’re introduced so that little ones can have the fun of joining in. Ant and Bee Go Shopping, probably my favourite of the two, focuses on shapes and includes longer words, again in red text, that children can learn to recognise with help from the context. Both books are long for pre-schoolers (c.100 pages) but they’re quick reads, and the perfect size for little hands to hold and re-read.
So, I give you Ant and Bee. From what little I can glean about Angela Banner, the thirteen Ant and Bee books were originally published between the 1950s and the early 70s. She died last year at the age of 91. But how wonderful to have a whole new generation of children feeling the unbearable sadness of the squashed supper. And how perfect for me to finally meet Ant and Bee.