How Cycling Changes the World: A Text Set

Originally published on Literacy Matters

blog bike picWhen the warm weather finally arrives we all revel in the sweet taste of just burnt bbq sauce, the heady scent of lilac bushes in bloom, and the warmth of sunshine on freckled faces. Maybe it’s my Dutch blood, but the harbinger of spring for me is cycling! Having just got back from a quick Sunday 25 km circuit, I’m inspired to share a text set of books about bikes. Text sets bring together a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts that have a topic or theme in common to support building background knowledge and to immerse our kids in great text. Now, my text set is not just about bikes; I’ve chosen stories of how bikes are changing lives around the world. There are narratives around overcoming challenges, images of innovation, and news from villagers improving their lives.

As both we and our students are looking forward to the summer holidays, what better way to celebrate the season than with great books that will entertain but also inspire them?


Emmanuel’s Dream, written by Lauria Anne Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls (great recommendation Jane Baird!), tells the true story of a boy who is born with only one strong leg. In shame, his father leaves. Emmanuel faces not only prejudice but poverty as a result. Despite Ghana being a country where most kids with disabilities can’t go to school, Emmanuel is determined to hop over 3 km to school back and forth daily. His mother’s determination pushes him to independence. In response to just one more negative assumption about his disability, Emmanuel commits to making a difference for others with disabilities. His belief that ‘being disabled does not mean being unable’ fuels his dream and he rides all over his country, over 600 km in 10 days. Emmanuel’s story speaks to the big ideas of persistence in overcoming challenges and believing in yourself. And his trek made an impact. Ghana has since passed a law for disabled persons and Emmanuel has been privileged to carry the Olympic torch!

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle, written by Jude Isabella and illustrated by Simeone Shin, is a Citizenkid publication, a collection of stories by KidsCanPress that sets out to inspire kids to become more globally aware and globally active. This story traces the journey of a bicycle. First purchased with savings by a North American boy for pure enjoyment, the bike travels to Burkino Faso where it enables a girl, Aliseta, and her grandmother to transport their meager harvest to market to make a little more money. The final chapter in this bike’s trek transforms it into an ambulance that serves the needs of a medical clinic. Although there is a fair amount of text ( I wouldn’t read it at one sitting), kids will enjoy tracing the adventure and impact just one bicycle has on so many lives. Photos from Burkino Faso are supplied at the back of the book, along with an accompanying list of organizations that collect bikes to supply West Africa with bikes. Perhaps your students will want to discover more, such as, a Toronto-based organization that has seen coverage by CTV news.

Pedal it! How Bicycles are Changing the World, written by Michelle Mulder, is just one in a series from Orca Footprints. Every book in this series is a must-have particularly for junior classrooms, however, it grabbed the attention of my husband this afternoon owing to its format (lots of pics) and purpose (looking at issues from multiple perspectives). While it does trace the genesis of the bicycle, the most compelling reasons to read are the images from all over the world of the myriad uses of the simple bicycle. You will be challenged to consider the powerful environmental impact we can have when we choose to ride our bikes. Kids will marvel at playing soccer on a bike: cycleball! Or a bicycle bus for 9 preschoolers in Amsterdam. Grade 6 teachers will find the connections to science and ‘pedaling for power’ a sage reminder of how the global village meets the demand for energy when we take it for granted. In fact, check out this Globe and Mail article about a family pedaling to charge led lights and soon cell phones: “We realized that there are intrinsic links between child poverty and energy poverty.” (Lamps shine light on a new kind of aid).

Certainly, students will readily connect with the stories of Emmanuel and Aliseta, but more importantly they will learn anew the fascinating uses for that two-wheeler leaning up against their house. There’s even a photograph of a mobile library in Pedal It! …bringing books on bikes to kids. That’s my next job!

Happy reading and riding!


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