Tag Archives: poverty

Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Patchwork Bike

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

Opening:

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:

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.

Also from Candlewick’s website, Rudd “is an Australian street artist and activist”. This is his first picture book. Read an interview with Rudd at Let’s Talk Picture Books.

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!

PPBF – The Christmas Boot

It’s that time of year again! Yep, time to visit that local bookstore and pretend to search for a gift for “that special someone” while really checking out the new holiday picture books. For the next few weeks, I’ll be featuring holiday titles, because they are, truly, Perfect Picture Books:

9780803741348_p0_v2_s192x300Title: The Christmas Boot

Written By: Lisa Wheeler

Illustrated By: Jerry Pinkney

Publisher/date: Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)/2016 (an earlier version of this book was published by Mitten Press/2006)

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: Christmas, Santa Claus, poverty, wishes, giving and receiving, loneliness, the elderly

Opening: “Deep in the forest on Christmas morning, Hannah Greyweather gathered bundles of kindling wood. For her, this day was no different from any other. As she went about her chores, she chatted to the forest, she talked to the mountains, but mostly she spoke to herself.”

Brief Synopsis: When a lonely, elderly woman finds a boot in the forest, she wishes for its mate and other things to ease her difficult life. But when the rightful owner of the boot appears, Hannah gratefully gives up her treasures and asks for only one thing that she truly desires.

Links to Resources:

The holidays are a season of joy. For the poor or lonely, though, they are difficult times, especially when accompanied by cold and snowy weather.

  • Make a holiday card or send a letter to an elderly or homebound person.
  • Bake and decorate boot and mitten-shaped cookies and share them.
  • Donate warm clothing or gently-used toys or books to those in need.

Think about what’s at the top of your Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa list. Why do you want it? Think about what’s really important to you and your family.

Why I Like this Book:

Tis the season of giving and receiving. The Christmas Boot asks the important question, what do you “truly desire”, ie, what is most important.  Hannah answers that what she truly wants is someone to talk to – not the large, fancy house, “fabulous foods” and “fluffy feather bed” that had appeared when she wished for them. Somehow, these “didn’t seem fully right”; they “didn’t seem to ‘fit’”. I love how Hannah rejects material comforts that aren’t true necessities and seeks, instead, companionship.

Mr. Pinkney’s gorgeous, homey, old-fashioned illustrations, the folktale feeling of the illustrations and text, and the inclusion of holiday magic make this a book that will become a holiday classic. The message of asking what’s most important and the focus on a poor, lonely, elderly woman make this a book that deserves to become a classic.

A Note about Craft:

The Christmas Boot is a modern folktale. But Ms. Wheeler doesn’t start this tale in classic “once upon a time” fashion. Instead, her opening paragraph jumps right in to Hannah Greyweather’s gritty life. It sets the scene and prepares us for what is to come: we immediately learn the who, what, where of the story and the central problem to be solved: the main character is lonely.

And who is the main character? Unlike many picture books, the main character here is an elderly woman. Hannah easily could have been a young “matchstick girl” or shepherd. Featuring an elderly, lonely woman brings another dimension to the story, focusing on the oft-forgotten elderly for whom a holiday may be a day “no different from any other.”

Finally, I love that Ms. Wheeler has chosen a character name that brings to mind other traditions: Hannah is a popular Jewish name, and Greyweather could easily be an American Indian name.

The Christmas Boot received starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews and Publisher’s Weekly. View the book trailer here. And for an interview with Ms. Wheeler, including the story behind this story and its republication, see Picture Book Builders.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!