The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle

the-red-bicycleBy Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin. Kids Can Press, 2015. 32 pages. $18.95/hardcover. Recommended for ages 8–12.

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This large picture book is intended to be a fuse that ignites a whole array of bicycle-based activities. Telling the story of a boy who has to give up his beloved bicycle because it has become too small, the narrative follows the bike on a ship to Burkina Faso to its next life: helping a girl bring goods to the market, and the next, when it becomes a rural bicycle ambulance.

The notion that something we take for granted can make such a difference to others is articulated clearly. When the bike becomes an ambulance, its first job is to bring a boy with a broken leg to the clinic. Without the bike, the child would have been stuck suffering in his village.

The narrative is light-hearted and straightforward but very wordy. It feels much more like a nonfiction book than a story. The illustrations—digital renditions of silkscreen—are iconic and fun, making the transition from North America to Burkina Faso without much of a palette change. The simply drafted characters are full of expression. The art could easily be for a younger audience, but the text, although it could be read aloud to a patient child, is clearly pitched at late-elementary or middle school kids who will be motivated to go out and do something.

There are two pages about “what you can do to help” that list organizations and ways to donate bicycles. There is also a page for parents and teachers with a list of activities that encourage bike riding, bike donations, and bike advocacy.

This would be a fun book for an older or multi-aged First-day school class, but watch out! After reading it, you will have a bunch of kids clamoring to make a difference in the world!

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