The Patchwork Bike, by Maxine Beneba Clarke

The best thing of all to play with under the stretching-out sky at the edge of the no-go desert… is me and my brothers’ bike.

The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

So says the young, female narrator of this beautiful, compelling, multi-layered story. It is a description of the “patchwork” bike that she and her brothers have put together using anything they could find in their home and in their neighborhood. 

I read “The Patchwork Bike” by Maxine Beneba Clarke to a group of first graders. Most of the children in the class are middle-upper class children. Most have never experienced, or even seen poverty. Although I wanted to read this book to them because of the amazing language and illustrations, I mostly wanted children to see a world outside their own. I also wanted them to see that you can find fun and joy even when you don’t have everything you can imagine.

My student, Jacob, shared some of what he learned when I asked, “Should other kids read this book?” He answered,

Yes! The people are different.  The mom is wearing a scarf on her head and the kids don’t have a lot of stuff and you should always be thankful for what you have.  These kids are thankful for what they have.

Something to consider: I found the author and illustrator notes at the back of the book to be quite thought provoking. I would not choose to read these particular notes to children, but they did help me to think about the book on multiple levels and therefore helped me to guide our book discussion in multiple directions. 

The illustrator, Van Thanh Rudd is clear that much of what he included in the illustrations are symbols against forms of oppression and exploitation. I did not choose to explicitly point out these symbols in my work with the first grade class. However, I could imagine they would lead to important and meaningful discussions with older children. 

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