Format: Picture book
Author and illustrator: Chris Rachka
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (published April 2013)
Little E, my three-year-old, is many things. She is perceptive, intelligent, creative, kind, and intuitive.
She is not, however, the most co-ordinated child.
She comes by this honestly. Her father and I are not exactly graceful ballerinas. Tall Guy played football under duress in high school because he was big, until he broke his collarbone. I never found a sport I could play well until I hit upon roller derby — a sport, I am grateful to add, at which you can excel with relatively little grace. I’m not the best roller derby player, but I do have some skill, mostly in the field of brute force.
Anyway, I digress. The situation is that Little E can’t ride her balance bike. All her little friends can zip around on their little bikes and E just walks around, her bike between her knees and her pink helmet perched on her head, her mood alternating between fierce concentration and consuming despair. “It’s not gonna stop wobbling!” she wails, letting her bike fall to the ground. When I suggest we take a break, though, she refuses. What can I say? My family might not be gazelles, but we’re nothing if not determined. But she’s very frustrated with the process. So I defaulted to my usual strategy: I reserved all of the library’s picture books about bicycles, hoping to find one that would help Little E understand that someday the bike will stop wobbling, as long as she doesn’t give up.
Having run through five or six books about bicycles (PS never read Froggy Rides a Bike), I was delighted to come across Chris Raschka’s Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. The pace is gentle and the watercolour illustrations bold and expressive. The tone is pitch-perfect; without talking down to his young readers, Raschka perfectly captures the frustrations involved in the (sometimes gruelling) process of learning how to ride a bicycle. The young protagonist struggles to pedal on grass, falls when she attempts a small hill, and needs plenty of hugs and encouragement. “Find the courage,” we read, “to try it again, and again, again, and again, and again, until” — we see a series of illustrations of the young bicyclist taking tumble after tumble — “by luck, grace, and determination, you are riding / a bicycle!”
After we read the story a few times over the course of several days, we attempted the bike again. When Little E felt frustrated, we said together “try again, and again, and again, and again!” She’s not there yet, but for the first time, the bike ride attempt involved zero tears. We’ll try again tomorrow. And again. And again. And again.