There are many things about parenting I find baffling. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m largely winging it when it comes to raising my children. One of those baffling things is the assumption, which I keep encountering, that all children will a) jump at the chance to learn to ride their bicycles, and b) the endeavor will come easy to them.
Well, nope. That’s just not true, I’ve learned. Not only have I met in my life adults who didn’t learn to ride a bike until they were well beyond their formative years, but my own daughter, nearly 10 years old, has never been physically daring and is terrified of the notion. Should she be riding a bike by now? Well, shoot. I don’t know. I just know the very thought right now is her own personal idea of torture.
Chris Raschka gets this. You’d think a picture book devoted to the notion of learning to ride a bike, which is precisely what his new book is, would be too banal a topic to be interesting. But you’d be wrong. Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle, to be released next week by Schwartz & Wade, is a keeper. And that’s because Raschka understands the import for a child of such a memorable and often scary task: Mastering the art and science of riding without training wheels.
After all, learning to ride a bike is not merely about getting around on two wheels. It’s also about overcoming fear and growing up. Tearing down the road on two wheels, without the help of a grown-up, theoretically free to go wherever you’d like, is a monumental new privilege. It’s a step up in elbow room, a pivotal childhood moment. And to become proficient in it requires perfecting a lot of little skills.
Hubba whoa. None of this is trivial stuff for children.
Raschka’s text is simple and direct. “Want to learn to ride a bicycle?” it opens. “First you need to choose the perfect bike for you. Let’s go!” We see a young girl, bike helmet at the ready, with what we assume is her father. The girl heeds his advice, as he speaks directly to her: “Watch everyone ride. They learned how.”
Rashcka doesn’t miss a step either: He introduces training wheels and the notion of raising them up “a smidge.” Then there’s balancing, removing the training wheels (Raschka acknowledging the scariness of it all), attempting a ride in the grass, pumping legs, and more. When the young girl tries a “small hill,” she takes her first spill. But her trusted father is there. “I’ll hold on,” he tells her.
And the poor girl has even more spills but is advised not to give up—and to find her courage. Persistence is key, young readers see, as the girl falls multiple times but keeps her head up. It’s with some luck, grace and determination, Raschka writes, that she will succeed. Her resultant joy is gratifying to see, as she races along with confidence.
Raschka conveys—in a seemingly effortless way—a lot of compelling emotion through line and color. I love this about his work—the energy and feeling he communicates through such non-cluttered spreads and fluid watercolors. And Raschka is a minimalist at heart, but it’s fun to pore over his various bikers in the background of many spreads.
This book—what Kirkus’ own official starred review calls “a wry, respectful ode to a rite of passage that's both commonplace and marvelous”—is a pleasure to share with children. Indeed, learning to ride a bike is both an everyday event as well as a spectacular one.
But it’s not everyday for everyone. This is a book that works even for those children who find it marvelously, spectacularly terrifying.
EVERYONE CAN LEARN TO RIDE A BICYCLE. Copyright © 2013 by Chris Raschka. Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, New York. Illustration reproduced with 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.