As President Obama read Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" to a group of children at the White House Easter Egg Roll, a single bee descended -- and with it, pandemonium.
At first, the president tried to calm the screaming kids down with reason. "It’s O.K. guys. Bees are good," he told them. "They won’t land on you. They won’t sting you, they’ll be OK."
When that didn't work, he urged them to buck up. "Hold on, hold on, you guys are 'Wild Things,'" Obama said. "You’re not supposed to be scared of bees."
For Obama, it wasn't just a quick-thinking save -- it was a fully-fledged talking point.
The kids may not have bought the pitch, but perhaps no president in history has made a stronger case for protecting pollinators than Barack Obama.
Both the president and the first lady have made pollinators like bees, bats (which also made an appearance at the Egg Roll Monday), birds and butterflies, which have experienced serious declines in recent years a high priority in both national agricultural policy and the operation of the White House itself, which now boasts a beehive as well as a small pollinator's garden.
So it was no surprise that the annual White House Easter Egg Roll featured an interactive feature with four species of bats, as well as a parting gift of "Burpee's Bee Garden" seeds, inviting children to "join the national bee and butterfly brigade!" The giveaway is part of a new partnership between the Interior Department, Agriculture Department and Burpee aimed at distributing seeds for 1 million bee and butterfly gardens this summer.
According to Michelle Obama's spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm, the Organization for Bat Conservation -- part of Michigan's Cranbrook Institute of Science -- brought the bats so children could see them and ask questions as "our volunteers talked about how they pollinate plants." Big brown bats, straw-colored fruit bats, Jamaican fruit bats and Malayan flying foxes were on display.
While many kids are fascinated by bats, the bees were clearly a harder sell.
The pint-sized guests Monday might not have listened to him, but the president’s National Pollinator Initiative will forge ahead. Last June Obama launched an inter-agency task force charged with developing a federal strategy to protect pollinators, which help sustain crops ranging from almonds to blueberries and broccoli, and it should be unveiling a detailed plan in a matter of months.