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Book Reviews

In a Cloud of Dust

by Alma Fullerton; Brian Deines (illus.)

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle

by Jude Isabella; Simone Shin (illus.)

Inspired by the work of organizations that send donated bicycles to countries around the world, two new picture books explore the life-changing gift of mobility.

In A Cloud of Dust (Alma Fullerton) coverIn a Cloud of Dust offers a glimpse into the daily struggle of a young Tanzanian girl. Anna has a long trek to and from school. While her classmates relax on lunch break, she works on her assignments, knowing it will be too dark to study by the time she walks back home. When Anna misses the arrival of the travelling bicycle library and isn’t able claim a bike for herself, she swallows her disappointment and eagerly helps her friends master their new two-wheelers. Her generosity of spirit is repaid by her friend Mohammad, who shares his bike. Barrelling down the well-trodden path home, Anna revels in her speedy flight, and “kicks up her own cloud of dust.”

Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award winner Alma Fullerton’s inviting text is spare and poetic. Lines appear staggered across the page in quick bursts that reflect the children’s excitement and energy: “Anna runs beside Farida. / She bumpety-bumps / with Samwel. / She helps Leyla careen. / She twists and turns with Irene.”

Brian Deines’ radiant oil paintings glow with orange and yellow background washes. An aerial view of Anna standing by herself after all the bikes have been claimed highlights the girl’s initial isolation and disappointment. The warmly realistic images of Anna helping Leyla learn to balance, and Prisca laughing after taking a tumble, nicely capture the children’s indefatigable spirits.

The Red Bicycle (Jude Isabella) coverShifting gears, The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle by Jude Isabella, former editor of defunct children’s science magazine YES Mag, takes a more detailed approach to the significance of owning a bike.

Leo, a North American boy, diligently saves his money and buys a shiny 18-speed beauty he names Big Red. When he outgrows his beloved set of wheels, Leo decides to make a charitable donation. In West Africa, Big Red is given to Alisetta, who uses it to travel to work in the sorghum fields and to take goods to market. In time, the bicycle is passed on to a new owner and refurbished as an ambulance for a medical clinic.

As in previous entries in Kids Can Press’s CitizenKid series, The Red Bicycle educates readers on global issues and encourages social action. While this book lacks the emotional immediacy of In a Cloud of Dust, it provides an extensive amount of clearly written information, from how a bicycle is transported across the continents to the ripple of economic benefits felt throughout the community.

Simone Shin’s digital illustrations have rich colours and vibrant silk-screened textures. Life in Burkina Faso is depicted in vignettes that play out across the pages,
including bustling market scenes with produce piled high in woven baskets, and Big Red’s unfortunate run-in with an errant pig.

Every young cyclist knows the fun and freedom a bicycle offers. These two books, with their engaging storylines and afterwords that discuss innovative bicycle-related initiatives, provide an inspirational push to pedal it forward.