Pedalling propaganda: bike books for kids
Want to inject a bit of cycling culture into your wee ‘uns? Get them enthused about cycling from a very early age by accidentally-on-purpose stocking your home library with bike-friendly books.
Cycling-themed books are better than books which – via anthropomorphic black arts – make cars look benign and cuddly, when they’re anything but.
Some of these bike books for kids are classics and will never go out of print; many are no longer available new but are well worth searching out in second-hand book shops, or websites, or in libraries. Some of the newer ones are available on Kindle and for iPads. For a range of buying and library options click through on the author names to go to the book’s Goodreads.com listing.
Fred the Magic Bicycle
Cycle campaigner Tom Bogdanowicz – the Senior Policy and Development Officer at the London Cycling Campaign – roped in his sister-in-law, Basia, a childrens’ book illustrator, to bring to life his idea for a bicycle-based adventure story for under-sixes. Fred The Magic Bicycle stars Tom himself, imagined as the magician uncle of bike-mad Dominik. The tale involves the comeuppance delivered, magically, to two bike thieves. However, as you’d expect, the tale has a happy ending. A third of the profits from the sale of the book goes to LCC.
Raoul Taburin Keeps a Secret
Raoul Taburin – Ralph Sprockett in English – is the story of a man who knows everything there is to know about bicycles, except how to ride one. An expert bicycle mechanic, thanks to constantly crashing and subsequently having to repair bikes as a child, he is admired by everyone in town for his skill and knowledge, so much so that they have even started refering to bicycles as ‘sprockets’ in his honour. No one knows his deep, dark secret – not even his wife knows that the great Ralph Sprockett cannot ride a bike. When his friend Noel, who is a photographer, announces that he would like to take a picture of Ralph riding his bike down a local hill, Ralph finally has to confront his fears… Sempé is France’s best known illustrator, famous for his New Yorker covers (many of which feature bicycles). This graphic novel isn’t specifically for children but it’s wonderful nevertheless.
Mrs. Armitage on Wheels
Mrs. Armitage has many ideas for useful accessories for her bicycle, including mast and sail. Disaster awaits her and her dog, Breakspear…
My First Bike Book
A ‘how to’ book from Haynes, the ‘how to’ specialists.
Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen
The tale of Sally Jean and her bicycle, Flash. They’re inseparable but when Sally Jean starts to outgrow Flash she has to build a new bicycle. First, she collects the parts.
Curious George Rides a Bike
Curious George rides his bike delivering newspapers. Hmm. The little skamp gets into a few scrapes.
The Bike Lesson
Stan Berenstain, Jan Berenstain
“When Brother Bear gets a brand-new bike, he’s all set to ride it.”
Mike and the Bike
“This is a boy whose name is Mike. This is Mike’s pride and joy, his bike…” An inspirational tale of a wannabe rider. Book ships with a CD with some bike-themed songs and the text of the book narrated by ‘voice of cycling’ Phil Liggett. Warning: there’s a foreword by Lance Armstrong (“daddy, what’s blood doping..?”)
Eric’s Big Day
“It’s a big day for Eric, the day of the bike race. His knapsack packed, Eric rides his bicycle to his friend Emily’s for a picnic near the finish. Pedaling from his house, Eric is slowed as he aids wayward bike racers, using helpful items from his backpack. The faster he rides to meet Emily, the more delays he encounters, until he tears off in a burst of speed. The cheers of a crowd surprise Eric, but where is Emily?” Rod Waters is a London-based writer, illustrator and Level 2 British Cycling coach.
Katharine Holabird, Helen Craig
The ballerina mouse kinda likes cycling, too.
Froggy Rides a Bike
Jonathan London, Frank Remkiewicz
Froggy perseveres at pedalling.
The Bear’s Bicycle
Emilie W. McLeod, David McPhail
A boy imagines his teddy bear can ride a bike. The boy is a safe rider, the bear might not be. Not a widely available book.
Gracie Goat’s Big Bike Race
Erin Mirabella, Lisa Horstman
Gracie Goat has to face her fears and learn to ride a bike in order to participate in the big race. Written by a former pro MTB racer.
Charlie Rooster, Johnny Mouse, and Percy the pig ride a bike, together.
Noddy and the Broken Bicycle
Why do elephants have Big Ears? Because Noddy won’t pay the ransom. Boom boom.
Kids’ Easy Bike Care: Tune-Ups, Tools & Quick Fixes
Steve Cole, Sarah Rakitin
Lots of ‘how to fix bikes’ illustrations for kids but also sage advice on riding on bike paths and on the road.
The Tough Princess
“Princess Rosamund grew tired of rescuing princes and killing dragons, and her front wheel got buckled in a fight with a hundred-headed thing. In the end she set off sadly for home, carrying her bicycle.” In fact, it was the King’s bike, and she’d mangled it. Oh, dear.
Ruth Dowley, Strawberrie Donnelly
“Steve asked Kipper and me if he could have a go on one of our bikes. But how could he, I thought. Steve has spina bifida. He uses sticks to help him get around.” An uplifting tale of friendship overcoming adversity, with some bullying thrown in (the bully gets what’s coming to him).
Disclaimer: I wrote this book and also wrote this article. I-Spy Bicycles was published by Michelin in 1998 and is well out of date on the technical side of things (although there is a Garmin handlebar GPS included in the book).
Duck on a bike
“I bet I could ride a bike,” muses Duck. The other farm animals laugh at him, but they’re soon riding, too.
Like a Fish on a Bike!
Brahm Piterski, Paul Piterski
Sonny is a fish. This makes it rather tough to ride a bike. Sonny fins a way. Geddit? I’ll get my coat.
Franklin Rides a Bike
Paulette Bourgeois, Brenda Clark
A turtle, in a red helmet, rides a red BMX.
David M. Schwartz, Bert Dodson
A picture-book based on the inspirational – and true – tale of ‘steel grandfather’ Gustaf Hakansson who, in 1951, at age 66, entered the Tour of Sweden, and, er, won. Unofficially.
Monsieur Albert Rides To Glory
Peter Smith, Bob Graham
“There’s a hush in the crowd as the mayor lifts his gun, then an ear-splitting Bang! and the race has begun, with a flashing of goggles and pale cyclists’ knees, and a murmuring sound like the bumble of bees.” Monsieur Albert enters the Grand Cycle Race, but he’s up against Francois, the champion of France. (The title perhaps gives away the story’s ending but, if Monsieur Albert *did* win that’s doubly amazing because it looks as though his cranks are on skew-whiff…or maybe the illustrator didn’t know how to draw workable transmission systems?)
Major Taylor, Champion Cyclist
Lesa Cline-Ransome, James Ransome
The great 1890s African American racer Major Taylor was a superstar in both America and Europe. This picture-biography charts his rise from a 13-year old trick cyclist to the all-conquering champion.
The Mountain Bike Challenge
Follow Myra Moller as she rides through dense forest and over rocks, streams, mud, and up and down huge hills, training for a mountain bike race.
The Bicycle Man
Beautifully illustrated story about two American soldiers who entertain children in a small village in occupied Japan, just after the Second World War. Entertain them with bicycle tricks, that is.
I’d Rather Be Riding My Bike
Eric Pinder, John Cardinal
“The sun is still out. I’m stuck here inside. When will I ever get outside to ride?” After a long school day and chores at home, one boy’s patience is rewarded when he finally gets to go riding his bike with a friend.
The Best Bike Ride Ever
James Proimos, Johanna Wright
“I want a bike! I want a bike!” This is all Bonnie says for one full week, until her parents surprise her with…a bike! Bonnie rides off on an adventure of epic proportions. She bikes over mountains, under giraffes, up the Statue of Liberty, through the Grand Canyon, and past the Giant Cheese.
The Boy Who Biked the World: On the Road to Africa
Alastair Humphreys, Tom Morgan-Jones
Alastair Humphreys rode around the world – speedily – on his bike. This is Humphrey’s tale of Tom, an adventurous boy who feels there must be more to life than school and who decides to ride off into the sunset…
The Cycling Wangdoos
A rhyming tale of an unlikely cycling team and their off-road lessons in teamwork.
New Red Bike!
James E. Ransome
Tom is having a blast zooming all over the neighbourhood on his new red bike. But when Tom stops by Sam’s house to show off his wheels, he’s in for an unhappy surprise. The new bike is suddenly gone. Could his best friend be the culprit?
The Tour of the Forest Bike Race: Guide to Bicyle Racing and the Tour de France
A lion in the yellow jersey? Naturellement! Animals get on their bikes for a race based on the Grand Bouclé.
Hero on a Bicycle
It is 1944 and Florence, Italy, is occupied by Nazi forces. The Italian resistance has not given up hope, though – and neither have Paolo and his sister, Constanza. Both are desperate to fight the occupation, but what can theys do against a whole army with only a bicycle to help them?
B is for Bicycles
Scott and Jannine Fitzgerald
This is a Kickstarted picture book which associates each letter of the alphabet with a different bicycle-related item. D is for drivetrain, S is for singletrack, and so on. With illustrations by Kathleen Hanson.