Review of The Patchwork Bike

The Patchwork Bike
by Maxine Beneba Clarke; illus. by Van Thanh Rudd
Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
9/18    978-1-5362-0031-7    $15.99

A child in an unnamed “village where we live inside our mud-for-walls home” describes the diversions of daily life: “whooping and shrieking and laughing” on the sand hill, exploring the desert, and playing atop an abandoned police car accompanied by “my crazy brothers,” annoying their “fed-up mum” (shown in what looks like a white abayah), and, best of all, zooming about on their “patchwork bike” built of scrap. Clarke’s spare, mellifluous language dances across the pages, full of vivid imagery and hyphenated turns of poetry (“out in the no-go desert, under the stretching-out sky”), all of it hand-lettered on Rudd’s rough, tactile paintings. Working in heavy acrylic paint on recycled cardboard marked by residual packing instructions, trademarks, and barcodes, Rudd re-makes the commonplace paper into the desert’s ubiquitous brown; long, dark shadows of the blocky, heavily outlined figures imply a searing sun. These illustration choices reflect the book’s very theme — exposing the harsh reality of life that some people face while acknowledging the resilience that comes from homemade joy. Appended author’s and illustrator’s notes tell personal stories about each one’s inspirations.

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess
Thom Barthelmess is Youth Services Manager for the Whatcom County Library System in northwest Washington State.

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