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Bikes and books

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One of the best things about lockdown has been cycling. Faster than walking, less jarring than jogging, it feels like I’m flowing through our local almost-countryside. A combination of flattish roads and our cheapy old bikes makes it easily manageable yet demanding enough to feel nobly exercised. I love the deceptive simplicity of the movement and its accessibility to all ages, shapes and sizes. Like that other great milestone of childhood, learning to read, bike-riding seems impossible to master before you do, and impossible to forget once you have. Both achievements bring freedom, exercise and cheap travel for the body and mind.

So bicycles fit perfectly into children’s stories. Here are a few wheelie wonders:

The Noddy Books by Enid Blyton

The series kicked off in 1949 with Big Ears falling off his bike, and the little red two-wheeler trundles through all of the 24 Noddy books.

The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

How else would the chubby postie deliver his letters to fairy tale characters but in rhyme and by bicycle?

Chimp and Zee by Laurence Anholt

The pair of chimp messers cause trouble when Mumkey cycles them to the shops for bananas.

Richard Scarry books

Lowly Worm is never far from a bicycle in these packed pictorial precursors to Where’s Wally.

The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey

In this Caldecott Honor Award winner, a paperboy cycles on his rounds alongside his dog through the silence and beauty of the early morning.   

Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes

This middle grade adventure, set in Nazi-occupied Florence, follows Paulo’s family who take in escaped prisoners of war. Paulo and his sister do their bit for the Resistance on a bicycle.  

Five get into Trouble by Enid Blyton

They’re often on bikes – unsurprisingly given the times; the series was written between 1942-63. In this eighth book out of 21 (how did she do it?) the four children, with Timmy the dog somehow in tow, jump on to their bikes for a thrilling cycling holiday with a kidnap thrown in for larks.

There are so many more, from Liesel and Rudy in Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, to Quentin Blakes’s Mrs Armitage on Wheels. But the best cycling character of all has to be Miss Almira Gulch who rides off with Dorothy’s dog Toto in her panier, then morphs traunatically into the witch on a bike in the middle of the tornado (originally called a cyclone in L Frank Baum’s Book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).  Definitely the scariest film image ever.

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