My Bike

my bikeAh, one of my favorite subjects: picture books for the very young. This year some of my most-loved books fall into that category, including several we're talking about on Calling Caldecott this fallWe all know that these books face an uphill battle when it comes to Caldecott recognition. But that doesn't mean they don't deserve it! So brace yourself for an impassioned plea for Byron Barton's My Bike, the latest entry in his transportation series (which includes My Car and My Bus).

This book has everything a book for preschoolers needs: a kid-friendly topic; a clear trajectory from beginning to end; propulsive page turns; repetition in pattern and/or language; a close congruency between pictures and text; art that captures attention and that limits its details to those of interest to kids.

My Bike could not begin more directly or succinctly, or lead more efficiently into the action. First Barton introduces Tom with the simplest of three-word texts — "I am Tom" —  on the left hand page and a forefronted portrait of Tom himself on the right side: blue eyes, striped green and yellow shirt, purple pants. On the next spread, the four-word text says, "This is my bicycle," and the picture shows Tom pointing at the bike (brilliant!). The next page turn shows the whole bike with all its parts labeled (a genius preamble, for vehicle-loving kids). And then we're off — "I ride my bicycle to work" — into this clever, beautifully foreshadowed, predictable-then-not-so, kid-pleasing story.

Here are just a few of the things I appreciate about this book:

  • The bright neon rainbow palette is entirely appropriate for the subject, and varying the colors of the pages and the typeface (from yellow to purple to blue to red, etc) adds an enormous amount of energy and vibrancy.

  • Young readers are constantly propelled forward through the book, with Tom riding from left to right on every spread. Also, his presence on every spread — riding his bike, often waving to the people and animals he passes — anchors the events.

  • The rounded typeface echoes and reinforces the wheels on Tom's bike and other vehicles, the round heads of the human characters, the balloons, the balls, and on and on.

  • The population of this book is diverse to the max. There is a spectacular mix of skin hues and genders and even species (in Barton's transportation books, even cats and dogs ride the bus and go to the circus). And just FYI, Barton has been including brown faces and women in nontraditional gender roles in his books for 30 years. He's no newcomer to a commitment to diversity.

  • Barton displays respect for his child audience through the foreshadowing — the unicycle handle just visible sticking out of his backpack; the slow unfolding of his eventual destination, with first the sight of the circus truck, then a glimpse of circus tents in the far distance, etc.

  • The humor (in the twist at the end) is matched perfectly to the audience. And I think kids will find the last view of Tom riding his bicycle while still WEARING HIS CLOWN'S NOSE hilarious.

Will others love My Bike as much as I do? Will the members of the Caldecott committee (and other committees as well — I'm looking at you, Geisel people) jump on the, bandbike?
Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is a contributing editor to The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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I agree with everything said here, too. I loved My Bus last year and think this one is even a step more impressive with the foreshadowing and more of a narrative. I also admire the way Barton takes what are essentially blobs of color and makes them immediately recognizable images. I enjoy images composed of, say, beautiful fine lines, and at a glance images like that look like they take more skill, but I think what Barton's doing here is challenging, and he pulls it off flawlessly. Little toddlers always know exactly what they're supposed to be seeing in his books.

Posted : Nov 08, 2015 12:57

Martha V. Parravano

Jonathan, thanks for emphasizing the perfectly-pitched to-preschoolers foreshadowing. I agree that it's brilliant! And of course Barton keeps the ending from being boringly predictable with the introduction of the unicycle -- which is itself foreshadowed.

Posted : Oct 13, 2015 01:05

Elissa Gershowitz

If only there were another book about a clown in recent years that the Caldecott committee might have had to discuss... :)

Posted : Oct 12, 2015 08:16

Jonathan Hunt

I agree with everything you've said here, Martha, but I just want to emphasize how brilliant the foreshadowing is. Barton never tells the reader where Tom works, but every reader knows exactly where Tom works by the end of the book. It's fun to read it a second time and see how all the clues accumulate over the pages. Not that the committee cares, but it's a perfect book for teaching CCSS R.1 to young children.

Posted : Oct 12, 2015 08:08



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