Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lost in the Pages: Review of Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen by Cari Best

I adore our small town library. The librarians know my kids and me by name, story time is presented by the librarian who has worked her entire career there (she's now enjoying sharing books with kids of the kids she first read and taught rhymes to!), and it is a branch of the very large King County Library System, so we can get our hands on just about any book we want.

Sometimes we think ahead and reserve titles through their website (handy for getting the Magic Tree House books next on our list). Other times we just browse the shelves to locate old favorites and hope to stumble upon some new favorites. That's just what happened on last week's library adventure. We stuffed our reusable library bag with our old stand-by Cynthia Rylant titles (smile makers from the Henry & Mudge series and the sweet Mr. Putter & Tabby collection), some early independent readers for Mr. Music's exploding reading skills and a book that grabbed my attention: Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen written by Cari Best and illustrated by Christine Davenier.

I'm not sure if it was the illustration of a red-headed girl on the cover that called to me (I am one of 3 red-heads living in my house, after all), or the captivating title that urged me to get this one last book, despite the fact that it would have to be hand carried since the library bag was already bulging. Whatever the reason, we are all glad to have it in our home - this book is WONDERFUL!

We follow Sally Jean from her earliest years when she was perched in the kid seat on her mother's bike to her confident, independent years when she worked to build herself a new bike. Best's use of patterns make the book a delightful read for my kids (4.5 and 2).

In the beginning we see Sally Jean waving from behind her mom, or on her tricycle or on her "yard-sale bike with two small wheels that hugged the ground". In all these instances, we're treated with Sally Jean's optimism and delight for riding with the same simple phrase. '"Hi!" she said to the big kids on their bikes."

My son cheered for her when she finally develops the skills to count herself among the ranks of two-wheel riders. '"Wait for meeee!" she called to the big kids on their bikes."

As a former little girl, I find myself drawn to the optimistic energy and celebration of outdoor adventure in Sally Jean. Davenier's illustrations more than capture the joy that Sally Jean finds in life. I can almost see myself in them, despite the fact that bike riding was a tumultuous and difficult skill for me to learn (we lived at the bottom of a hill right off a main drag . . . not fabulous for kids to enthusiastically acquire the skills!). In fact, this book almost erases those memories of apprehension - now I can live vicariously through a fellow-redhead. That's the magic of books, right?

As a mother, I see Sally Jean as a positive role model (and even heroine!) for my children. At one point she finds that she has outgrown her treasured bike, Flash. Undaunted by the expense of a new bicycle, Sally Jean heads out to earn money (teaching bicycle maintenance and repair to the neighbor children, of course!) to buy used parts and build her own new bike, Lightening, with the help of a mentor. I also like that this girl is out living life, moving her body and having a blast!

This book really has it all: shared family experiences, community building, problem solving, celebration, mentoring (she takes a small child under her wing, too!), and the joy of childhood. This library treasure is so good that I'm off to put it on my Amazon Wish List so I can add it to my cart for my next purchase.
Seriously. Go check it out!

1 comment:

sarah said...

I love Cynthia Rylant's series, Henry and Mudge and Mr. Putter and Tabby. Ms. Ryland is a genius in capturing precious emotions in the early reader style.