The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett

Another day, another wonderful book recommendation for those of you who love reading books that may help your children become better people with them… This time, I bring you a book about perseverance, hard work, selflessness, and generosity. The Girl and the Bicycle by Mark Pett is a gem that somehow conveys all of these lessons in almost-solely sepia-toned illustrations, sparse splashes of color, and no words!

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Earlier this spring, I was looking for books to read with our girls that could provide some guidance and inspiration around sharing, generosity, and selfishness. While we have an abundance of books around other areas of kindness, our books for these areas were lacking. I came across The Girl and the Bicycle on a list, got it from the library, and fell in love with it immediately! Pett tells the story of a girl who really, really wants to buy a new bike. She takes initiative to search for odd jobs around her neighborhood so that she can earn and save money (yet another fabulous lesson from this book!), but meets great disappointment when she finally has enough money to buy it. I won’t spoil the ending, but the generosity that she both gives and receives is truly heart-warming and has inspired my girls’ relationships with each other.

And now the illustrations… While some of my absolute favorite wordless picture books are chock full of details (Spot, the Cat and Flotsam, to name two!), Pett’s illustrations in The Girl and the Bicycle are extremely simple. And surprisingly, I love this, too! I think this lack of detail allows the story to unfold smoothly, to be interpreted easily, and to help all readers connect with the characters.

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But, this doesn’t mean there isn’t more to see with each reading! In fact, every time my girls and I read this, they notice things I haven’t noticed before (such as the tricycle in the corner of the very first illustration or the fact that the little brother and the cat appear to be playing hide-and-seek on one page! And, my girls’ attention has been mainly on the characters, not on the scenery, which has opened the door for wonderful conversations about reading facial expressions and body language.

Pett also uses the space on the page and the slightly different colors of background paper to effectively connect scenes and show the passage of time. He uses double spreads, full-page illustrations, and horizonal and vertical delineations between illustrations, and all of these work! I particularly like when he used the same background drawing, but with a horizontal change in background color to show the girl and her brother moving down the sidewalk and into the store.

Have you read Pett’s The Boy and the Airplane? If so and you read closely, you may find some surprising connections between these two stories!

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Worth noting– one of my favorite picture books to use for specific social-emotional learning lessons with my third graders was also written by Pett — The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. It’s quite different in tone and in feel (brightly colored illustrations and… words!), but definitely worth a read with elementary-aged children. My third graders always loved it, and my 3.5- and almost-6-year-olds both love it, too!

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