Biodiversity Pills: Monica Colli, author of What is it?

What is it? is an illustrated book for children in the 3+ age group, written by Monica Colli and illustrated by Erica Verri for the Venetian publishing house Storiedichi Edizioni.

The book, through a series of riddles, encourages children to discover the wonderful geometry of the honeycomb. Part of the proceeds will be donated to Beeing, in support of urban beekeeping and knowledge of the world of bees.  

I: “What is it”: where did the idea for this original title come from?

M: The choice of the title, “What is it? The Curious Enigma of an English Painter” was made with the intention of intriguing children and I was inspired by the most famous canvas of the mysterious painter Charles Beehive (whose last name already contains the solution of the rebus). In particular, the title in English brings those children who do not yet know this language to ask themselves the question: “Che cos’è?” and thus, albeit unknowingly, to discover its meaning.  By investigating each canvas with high accuracy, they will solve the riddle (i.e., what is the subject to which each work refers).

I: What is the book about and who is it aimed at?

M: What is it? presents the collection of painter Charles Beehive’s most famous paintings at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The basic texture of each canvas, consisting of hexagonal cells, refers back to an element very commonly found in nature (the honeycomb), which, however, changes, page after page, into many different ways (such as tires, fish scales or crocodile skin, etc.). This simple trick immediately draws children’s curiosity by immersing them in a state of possibility capable of enhancing everyone’s creativity.

The book is designed for children between 3 and 10, but actually, as is often the case with illustrated books, adults who keep their desire to… wonder intact, also like it!

 I: Where did the idea of writing this book come from?  

M: The original idea was to start with a detail, a portion of the honeycomb to be shown not in full light but in the dark (since bees, inside their home, be it the cavity of a tree or a hive, move completely in the dark), asking the typical question: “What is it?” in the form of a riddle: “What is it’? What will it be? Does anyone know?”. In 2021, during a school workshop that I held as a trainer, I asked these questions to the children of class 5°D of the Mazzini school in Terni, and their answers and hypotheses were so original that I wanted to put them into words by producing a crackling repartee capable of engaging the reader in a continuous interpretative do-it-yourself.

Meeting illustrator Erica Verri and seeing the beauty of some illustrations she had already done on the theme of bees and the beehive gave me my third idea.  Looking at her drawings, I immediately thought they deserved to be framed, and this is where the setting inside a museum, and not just any museum: the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, was born!

I: How long have you been involved in beekeeping/biodiversity? Where did your passion for beekeeping originate?

M: I have been interested in beekeeping and biodiversity since 2020 and my passion was born when I met a very knowledgeable and passionate beekeeper in Rome, Alessandro Volo, who introduced me to this world full of fascination and mystery.

I: What do you think is the biggest difficulty or obstacle for beekeepers today?  

M: The uncontrolled use of pesticides, but also the poor environmental education that does not activate in people commitment towards bees and the planet. For this reason, we are taking action in many ways: with Storiedichi Edizioni we are producing a series of children’s books on bees; with the ProXXima APS association in Milan, of which I am president, we are involving more than 1,000 elementary school children and their teachers in five regions of Italy, thanks to 8×1000 funds from the Italian Buddhist Union allocated to the To bee or not to bee. Costruire Comunità dall’io al noi project. (read more:

I: Part of the proceeds will be used to adopt some Beeing beehives? How did you come up with this idea?

M: Storiedichi Edizioni has decided to donate part of the proceeds of the book to support Beeing’s projects that promote urban beekeeping and knowledge about the world of bees. Bees are fundamental to our survival and the preservation of the ecosystem, and it is very important to spread respect for these little bees that are so precious to our planet.

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