Kids and bikes are a winning combination. Throw in lively writing, fascinating historical tidbits, intriguing inventions, advertising history, a whole lot of cool stuff to look at and in Wheels of Change you’ve got one not-to-be-missed work of nonfiction.
Wheels of Change opens with a moving foreword by Leah Missback Day, founder of World Bicycle Relief, an organization that works to get bicycles to those in parts of the world where people would otherwise be walking miles to their schools and other destinations. Day points out that the bicycle, a form of recreation for some, is still a sorely-needed means of transportation in many places.
As we move into the book proper, we read author Sue Macy’s reminiscences of her own childhood when she first hopped on her bike and rode instead of walked to the local candy store. She communicates beautifully the exhilarating sense of freedom and power she felt on her bike. From there she moves back in time, always communicating that sense of freedom and awe that has been true for so many since the bicycle first came into being.
Compactly, Macy gives us the social history of the bicycle with a particular focus on its impact on women. Readers will learn of the earliest two- and three-wheelers – those called “hobby horses” – and learn about those now funny-looking early bikes like the highwheeler with its huge front wheel and tiny rear one. Celebrities, racing, and inventions – Macy manages to cover them all in a most engaging way. She also doesn’t avoid the negative: even as women were advocating for gender equality, there were those who associated bicycle riding with – horrors! – problematic ideas like giving women the vote. Clothes like the bloomer that made it easier to ride a bike? Heresy to some. But for all the naysayers, biking and women kept rolling along. Macy gives us the evolution of the bike to make them better and more comfortable for women, stories of women’s feats of going round the world or winning races.
Breezy accessible writing, lots of images, sidebars, and a winning design make this a book to savor. Its subject makes it one to tempt all readers. Its special appeal will be to eager readers who gravitate to nonfiction and those with a special interest in inventions, social history, women’s history, and more.
For a few other bicycle-centric books consider: Sue Staffaucher’s true story of a Swedish early 19th century female cyclist, Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History; Leslie O’Conner’s Crunch where a futuristic fuel crisis causes bicycles to come back into vogue; and Allan Say’s The Bicycle Man, set in post-World War II occupied Japan.
Reviewed by ME
THEMES: INVENTIONS AND INVENTORS. SPORTS. WOMEN. U.S. HISTORY.
National Geographic Children, 2011
Suggested Ages: 10 and up