The Patchwork Bike
This intriguing picture book by an Australian author celebrates the ingenuity and creativity of children.
The narrator, a young girl with dark skin and corn rows, and her “crazy brothers” live in a “mud for walls home” in an unspecified location “at the edge of the no-go-desert.”
“Whooping,” “shrieking,” and “Laughing,” they slide down a sand hill and climb trees, always under the eyes of their “fed up mum.” The kids have lots of time but few resources, so they make do with what is at their disposal—a situation that in spite of the foreign setting should be familiar to most young American readers.
Their most prized possession is her brothers’ bike. Made from recycled parts—a bucket serves as seat, wheels are cut from wood and their mother’s milk pot acts as a bell—it is used as they dash through the fields and their village.
The text of this picture book is sparse, like the kids’ desert environment, but sprinkled with onomatopoeia expressing the sounds and motions of their exuberant riding on their bike through the village. “Winketty-wonk,” “shicketty-shake,” and “bumpetty bump” the bike also races right through the house, which is perhaps the reason why their mother who watches them dressed in a white dress and hijab is “fed up.”
An author’s note explains Maxine Beneba Clarke’s background and her desire to let young readers know how important it is to imagine oneself in a “better future,” even under the dire circumstances of poverty.
The illustrations by street artist Van Than Rudd, made from cardboard and recycled paper, mirror the material the children use to construct the bike. The images support the text perfectly, making readers feel the excitement and fun the patchwork bike brings to the narrator and her brothers. Smears of paint across the pages express the kids’ motion and energy, while a license plate made from bark and inscribed with BLM alludes to the Black Lives Matter movement. A reference explained by the illustrator in a note on the last page.
This winning book will make a great read-aloud for primary grades and provides great material for discussions about creativity, the power of play and imagination, and how to best be happy with what you already have.