Koekemoer’s debut children’s book introduces a scrappy hero and his best friend, an inanimate bike.
Sparrow Spencer, a South African schoolboy, has few companions save his beloved oversized bicycle, Jumbo, and Lyla, a schoolmate in delicate health. After Sparrow loses his father to an automobile accident, his mother fears cars and forbids her son to go near the highway bordering their Tortoisetown home. There’s more than enough to keep Sparrow and his imagination occupied, though. He helps Uncle Jacob, a grocer, with deliveries, rides Jumbo and dreams of participating in the Tour of South Africa, a major cycling event that passes through Tortoisetown and Marvel City. A major fuel shortage—even school is suspended—launches Sparrow from deliveryboy to sought-after bicycle courier. Jumbo gains a cart, fashioned by Uncle Jacob, and Sparrow gains a business helping neighbors transport goods. After Lyla falls ill, Sparrow attempts to transport her—his most precious cargo—to the hospital for much-needed medical care. Readers will be rooting for Sparrow and his dreams of a life of cycling as he evolves from the son of a cautious single mother to a hero charged with saving Lyla’s life. Koekemoer cleverly places this trajectory against the backdrop of the dangerous highway as well as the course of his beloved Tour of South Africa. This sets the stage for his own epic endurance race ending in Marvel City, home to the hospital and a bike shop that offers cycling equipment and perhaps a chance for Sparrow to capture his dream. Though enlivened by colorful illustrations that show off the cycling speed of the fast-paced narrative, the story requires a certain suspension of disbelief: Even with a fuel shortage, why would Lyla’s parents entrust their daughter’s medical care and stewardship solely to a young bicyclist?
Plausible? Maybe not. A fun adventure story for children? Definitely.