One Impossibly Cool Bicycle Before Breakfast

h1 May 14th, 2013 by jules

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about the rampant popularity of picture books about bullying. Is the world really a meaner place that it was, say, thirty years ago, especially in the realm of childhood? I don’t know. Surely, people can be cruel, but are these instances of violence and bullying just more televised than they were in the past? It’s a big question that needs more than one cup of coffee (which is all I’ve had thus far today) for pondering further.

Either way, I’d hate to see today’s featured picture book, Ben Rides On (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook), merely get lumped into the category of Books About Bullies, if only because then people might tend to disregard it. This isn’t a picture book trying desperately to force its way into a publishing trend. It’s a genuinely poignant, yet never saccharine-sweet, tale about kindness — one that Kirkus in their starred review calls “[g]reat amusement for the bold and timid alike.” And it comes to readers by way of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Matt Davies. This is his first children’s book, and I believe it’s scheduled to be released next week.

Ben Lukin has the bicycle of his dreams and loves going to school. “With his gleaming new machine,” he takes creatively long ways to school (as you can see below).

The part about school he doesn’t like so much is arriving. Adrian Underbite, quite possibly the “world’s largest third-grader,” doesn’t like Ben and makes it very clear.

One day, Adrian steals Ben’s treasured bike. Heading home that afternoon, Ben hears a strange noise and discovers (as you can also see below) his bike — as well as Adrian in a very compromising position. Adrian had wrecked Ben’s bike, but he is also hanging from a tree off a cliff, clinging for dear life. Ben considers the possibility that “Adrian would perilously dangle from a tree branch for all eternity” and heads off, but something inside makes him stop on his journey home with his mangled bike. He turns back and uses his signature green hoodie to hoost Adrian up.

Adrian doesn’t immediately thank Ben. He leaps up (“like an airborne walrus”), grabs Ben’s bike, and tears off. That’s not the end of the story, though, and I can’t ruin the rest of it for you, so I’ll stop there.

Davies’ cartoon art is lively and expressive, and he has great fun with perspective in this story. (At one point, we see Ben’s huge grin looking down upon us, as if we’re Adrian, looking up from the tree and begging for help.) He uses warm earth tones to tell the story, with occasional touches of pinks and yellows and purples, and there’s a lot of movement and energy in his fluid line work. There’s also a lot of humor in the details (there may or may not be some butt crack as Adrian leaps toward Ben’s bike at the end). Best of all, there’s a throbbing heart at the center of this story, as well as loads of joy, particularly in the beginning — the kind of unbridled happiness that a simple bike can bring many children.

Here’s some art. (From one illustration nerd to another, the colors are a teensy bit off here, as they appear on the computer.) Enjoy.

“Now that he had the bicycle of his dreams, Ben Lukin loved going to school.”
(Click to enlarge)

“And maybe even the very, very long way.”
(Click to enlarge)

“It was arriving at school that Ben hated. Sadly, Adrian Underbite,
perhaps the world’s biggest third-grader, didn’t seem to like Ben very much.
But Adrian did like nice things.”

(Click either image to see entire spread from which it comes.)

“Whereupon he quickly discovered his stolen bike. And also Adrian …”
(Click to enlarge)

p.s. Here’s the book in the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review.

* * * * * * *

BEN RIDES ON. Copyright © 2013 by Matt Davies. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, New York. Images reproduced with permission of the publisher.

4 comments to “One Impossibly Cool Bicycle Before Breakfast”

  1. looks like fun, can’t wait until it’s officially available next week!

  2. I think Ben is my kind of guy. Looking forward to this release. Thank, Jules.

  3. This has such a Sunday morning cartoons feel. I miss those days, and that silliness; this will be a winner.

  4. My favorite parts of Spinelli’s “Hokey Pokey” were the descriptions of bike riding. That freedom, that power, that feeling you’re going faster than anyone ever went before.

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