I thought I’d celebrate the first day of March optimistically, as it’s the month when spring arrives in the northern hemisphere, and cyclists tune up their bikes in anticipation of the return (hopefully) of warmer weather. I hope you’re all able to hit the roads on your favorite two or three wheelers soon!
Title: The Patchwork Bike
Written By: Maxine Beneba Clarke
Illustrated By: Van Than Rudd
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2018 (first published in Australia by Hachette Australia/2016)
Suitable for Ages: 6-9
Themes/Topics: bicycle; resourcefulness; play; poverty; imagination; North Africa; multicultural
This is the village where we live inside our mud-for-walls home.
These are my crazy brothers, and this is our fed-up mum.
Brief Synopsis: The young narrator and her brothers in an unnamed village near a desert create a bike out of used items and take readers on a joy-filled journey.
Links to Resources:
- Patchwork generally refers to fabric, as in patchwork quilts; create some fun and easy patchwork crafts; Why do you think the author (or editor) calls the bike “patchwork”?
- Have you ever created something to play with or use from found objects? Discover some kid-friendly “trash to treasures” craft ideas;
- Check out the questions and activities in the Teachers’ Guide.
Why I Like this Book:
With its sparse text and roll-off-your-tongue language, The Patchwork Bike is a joy-filled read-aloud that will have kids wanting to build their own patchwork bike. The bike’s handlebar branches “shicketty shake” and “wood-cut wheels” “winketty wonk” when the children ride it. Who wouldn’t want to “bumpety bump” through the village under the “stretching-out sky”?
But along with this joy and exuberance, astute children and adults will notice that these children live in a “mud-for-walls home” and have a “fed-up mum”, perhaps because the kids use “Mum’s milk pot” (her only milk pot?) for a bell. And they make their bike not out of a purchased kit but from what most of us would term trash. I think the inclusion of these signs of poverty adds a rich layer to this story that makes this a perfect book for classroom or home discussion.
Van Than Rudd’s expressive acrylic illustrations on recycled cardboard add so many details to the text including picturing dark-skinned Mum with a head covering and robe, indicative of clothing from North Africa, including the initials BLM on the bike’s license plate in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, and an image of the boys standing on an abandoned police car. Pointing out these details to children provides, in my opinion, a wonderful discussion opportunity. As Rudd relates in “A Note About the Illustrations”, “[t]o me, the kids painting ‘BLM’ on a bark license plate was their way of showing pride in what they had created out of limited resources and also linking themselves to a long history of rebellion.”
A Note about Craft:
In sparse, poetic text, author Beneba Clarke transports readers to an unnamed, probably North African village and describes the building of a bicycle out of used materials. Interestingly, she doesn’t mention anything that indicates a geographical region, except the existence of a “no-go desert”, nor that identifies the family as being from a particular race or religion. Instead, these details are left to the illustrator, Rudd, who brings this story to life.
In an “Author’s Note”, Beneba Clarke relates that she included a child with a bike made from scrap pieces in a short story for adults. The image of that child and the experience of bike riding stayed with her and formed the basis of The Patchwork Bike. What characters or situations can you pull from existing manuscripts and repurpose into a new story?
Per Candlewick’s website, Beneba Clarke is “an Australian writer and slam poet champion of Afro-Caribbean descent”. For more information about Beneba Clarke, see a recent Picture Book Author feature in The Brown Bookshelf. This is her first picture book.
This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!