This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 20.5.
The Red Bicycle
Jude Isabella’s The Red Bicycle shares some of what is best in another picture book about bicycles: Pedal It! (Orca, 2013). While the award-winning Pedal It! is a non-fiction look at a myriad of uses bicycles are put to around the world, The Red Bicycle is a fictional account of one bike, and how its owner passes his affection for his bike forward.
Leo saves his money for months to buy the bike he names “Big Red,” and Big Red becomes not only a method of transportation, but an inanimate best friend (a sentiment I am sure many readers will identify with). When he outgrows Big Red, Leo is told about a system designed to give old bikes new life. Big Red thus ends up en route to Africa, courtesy of an unnamed charitable organization. Once in Burkina Faso, Big Red helps a family rise out of poverty sufficiently that they can afford a second bike. Big Red later becomes a bicycle ambulance, helping save lives in an area where there are no cars, and few roads to drive on.
Leo’s story, though, is told in a narrative voice that is stilted and uninteresting: just that little bit too “Run, Spot! Run.” for the target audience. While the illustrations are fun, and fit with the story well, the font chosen seems too mundane, sapping energy from the illustrations.
One of the strongest points of the book is not the story, but the message of charity, supported by informative notes at the end (“What You Can Do To Help”) outlining various organizations that put old bikes to good use, as well “A Note for Parents and Teachers” with ideas about how to further engage readers in a cycling culture.