The Red Bicycle: An Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shen

It has taken Leo two years to earn enough money to purchase his bicycle which he dubs Big Red. He rides it everywhere, but eventually Leo outgrows his bike. Even though it is a few years old, Big Red still looks new. Leo wants to find it a good home and is excited when he discovers there is an oganization in town which is collecting bicycles to ship to other parts of the world where there is a need for transportation. Leo helps load up the 462 bikes headed for Africa. Across the ocean, the cargo arrives in Ghana where it is loaded onto a truck and driven to Burkino Faso so it can be distributed to widows and orphans. Awa Sawadogo has brought her granddaughter Alisetta to town in the hopes of acquiring one of the treasures. To her delight, Big Red is still available when their name is called. After a little trial and error Alisetta learns how to ride her bicycle to the cheers of the village. Now she is able to scare the birds way from their sorghum crop and have more product to trade and a mode of transportation to sell items at the marketplace. Not only is the family eating better, but now her little brother and sister can go to school. Enough money is saved for a new bicycle, so when Big Red is damaged by a rambunctious pig, they are able to give it to an organization who can fix it up and put it to good use elsewhere. With a few replacement parts and a trailer attachment, Big Red is now ready to become an ambulance. Volunteer Haridata uses the make shift stretcher to transport a village boy with a broken leg back to the clinic where it can be properly healed. Le Grande Rouge allows her to deliver medications to the various villages and bring sick people to the doctors where they can be treated. Eventually Haridata gets a job at a bigger clinic and must leave the bicycle behind. Big Red has served the people well.

In many parts of the world, a motorized vehicle is a luxury, so that most people get from point A to point B on foot, or, if they are lucky, by bicycle. In poorer parts of the world, especially Asia and Africa, even a bicycle is a precious commodity. There are several organizations (listed at the back of the book) which facilitate the acquisition and repair of bicycles distributed to needy individuals to improve their quality of life.

The Red Bicycle: An Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella tells the tale of the life of Big Red, purchased and loved by a boy in Victoria, British Columbia (in Canada) and then shipped and “adopted” by two individuals in West Africa. This book has the potential to be empowering for children, but the dense text packed into the richly illustrated thirty two pages might be a little off putting to the normal reader of picture books. Simone Shin has done a superb job with the digitally composed artwork as a way to impart the cultural aspects represented by the narration of the story with illustrations representing village life – including clothing and houses, babies being carried, and a landscape where pigs and goats freely roam. Despite the verboseness of the text, there is a simplified storyline expressed on each page in a single sentence (in a larger, lighter font) making this book easier to share with younger children, although the adult reader will still have to fill in the blanks for their child to get the full impact of the story. Otherwise, despite the inspiring content, there is a limited audience for this book.

At the end of the book is information on organizations who provide bicycles to those who need them throughout the world, ways individuals can help one another, and various activities which support the book’s philanthropic theme. This story is a part the Citizen Kids series which demonstrates that even the smallest act of kindness can make a difference. Three stars.

A thank you to Netgalley and Kids Can Press for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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