Little did I know (or if I knew, I forgot) that a sequel of sorts was in the works. I say “of sorts,” because I guess it could be considered a companion book instead. No matter what it’s called, though, it’s a charmer too—as a stand-alone book, but especially as a follow-up to Pett’s first story.
The Girl and the Bicycle is the wordless story of a young girl who, walking with her toddler brother, spies a bicycle in a shop window. She runs home to count the coins in her piggy bank and even goes so far as to check under the couch cushions and to dig in the pockets of the clothes in the laundry. She desperately wants this bike and is determined to whip up any and all money possible for purchasing it.
But she doesn’t have enough and heads out to ask neighbors about doing chores—yard work, in particular. She finally gets a taker—a nice, older lady, who pays her to rake and shovel snow and such.
Fans of The Boy and the Airplane who look closely at these spreads of the girl working at the woman’s home will be rewarded. In the garage, the woman holds up a framed photo of someone who looks very much like the old man from the first book. And over in a box is the very red airplane he loved so much (though at the end of the first book, he’d given it away).
When the girl finally has enough money, she runs to the shop, only to find that the bike has been sold. Astute readers will have guessed that the woman for whom the girl is working has purchased the bike for the child. She seemingly lives alone in her home; is fond of the girl, who works with her for long enough for the seasons to change; and on one spread it’s almost as if we can see the idea coming to her—that she will purchase the bicycle as a surprise for the girl.
But the girl doesn’t know this. Instead, after seeing the gaping hole in the shop window where the bike used to be, she uses her money to buy a tricycle for her brother, who literally jumps for joy when he sees it. As the girl passes by the woman’s home later, the woman points her to the bike, complete with a big bow on it. The girl happily rides off, waving to the woman, but then runs back for a hug.
As with the first book, this is dominated by sepia tones. The Boy and the Airplane included subtle splashes of red for the plane, and here we have a rich, dark green for the bicycle. In both books, Pett emphasizes the horizontal line, almost as if we are seeing actors go by on a stage, and his pacing is spot-on. He pulls a good deal of emotion out of this story, especially given that the girl’s mouth is rarely seen. Instead, we see her wide eyes and nose. But when we do see her soft smile, it’s all the more striking.
And that hug at the end? Have mercy. Pett pulls it off with a beautiful restraint, and we sense that this woman has been given a gift even more rewarding than the girl’s new bicycle—she has a new friend in the girl, and her life is perhaps now a little less lonely.
Pett is a refreshing presence in children’s literature. In the hands of someone less assured, these stories could easily be altogether too saccharine, but instead they resonate with a warmth and sincerity that is real and rewarding.
THE GIRL AND THE BICYCLE. Copyright © 2014 by Mark Pett. Published by Simon & Schuster, New York. Illustration used here by permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.