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The Big Bike Race

The Big Bike Race

by Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Sterling A. Brown (Illustrator)

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Ernie was hoping for a sleek new racing bike for his tenth birthday, not a big, secondhand, yellow clunker. He knew it was all his grandmother could afford, yet he was still disappointed — and embarrassed to show it to his friends. But the laughter of the other kids doesn't stop Ernie from racing. . .or proving that its determination, not the bike, that makes


Ernie was hoping for a sleek new racing bike for his tenth birthday, not a big, secondhand, yellow clunker. He knew it was all his grandmother could afford, yet he was still disappointed — and embarrassed to show it to his friends. But the laughter of the other kids doesn't stop Ernie from racing. . .or proving that its determination, not the bike, that makes the winner!

Author Biography:

LUCY JANE BLEDSOE is also the author of The Big Bike Race. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-In eight fast-paced chapters, Bledsoe tells the story of an African American boy growing up with his practical grandmother and pest of a little sister in Washington, D.C. Since Ernie is turning 10 and is on his way to becoming someone, he feels it's more appropriate that he be called Ernest. Grandmother, who's holding the family together on a ``no frills'' budget since the children's parents were killed in a car accident, feels Ernie's dreams are merely ``delusions of grandeur.'' Ernest longs for a racing bike for his birthday, but is disappointed and embarrassed by the ``huge, clunky, yellow'' secondhand one Grandmother is able to afford. Nevertheless, he rides it, and on his first outing meets Sonny, a racer who's never taken first place. Ernie is persistent in persuading Sonny to help him train for the prestigious Citywide Cup juniors race. He garners the respect of his friends as he doggedly trains, and at the same time builds Sonny's self-confidence. Bledsoe blends her intricate knowledge of training and racing into the story as she allows readers to see Ernie's high and low points, concentrating on his upbeat and determined moods. This book would pair well with Cheryl Zach's Benny and the Crazy Contest (Bradbury, 1991).-Christina Dorr, Calcium Primary School, NY
Lauren Peterson
Ernie's dreams of getting a sleek silver racing bike for his tenth birthday are shattered when he receives a clunky yellow secondhand bike instead. Knowing that its purchase was quite a financial sacrifice for his grandmother, who is raising him, Ernie ignores the laughter of the other kids and sets his sights on winning the junior division of the Citywide Cup. An avid cyclist herself, Bledsoe presents detailed descriptions of the rigorous training process and several bike races. The climactic Citywide Cup race is not as exciting as it might have been. Nevertheless, a strong, dignified portrayal of a loving African American family persevering despite the poverty around them is something not seen enough in mainstream children's literature. Illustrations for this chapter book were not available in galley.

Product Details

Holiday House, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 9.02(h) x 0.56(d)
Age Range:
9 - 11 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Birthday Present

Ernie Peterson flew out of bed on his tenth birthday. He landed squarely on his feet. He swung his head around, looking hard. He did not see, at least not right there in his bedroom, a racing bike.

He sat back down on his bed and sighed. Although it was early June and only eight in the morning, it was already hot and muggy. With a fast bike, though, he could speed through the heat and make his own breeze.

Ernie wanted a silver racing bike with red handlebars. He wanted one of those light, streamlined bikes, the kind with the thin, pointed seats. He could just feel his hands in the curve of the handlebars. He could just feel the smooth turning of the pedals. Maybe his dream bike was waiting for him in the kitchen.

Ernie dressed quickly.

Ernie Peterson lived in Washington, D.C. That happened to be the same city in which the president and other important lawmakers lived. Ernie hoped that some of the greatness of the city might rub off on him.

"Delusions of grandeur!" his grandma had said last week when he pointed this out to her. But his grandma had no imagination. That was her main problem. She was always one hundred percent practical.

Of course, Ernie knew he lived all the way across town from the president. And the apartment he shared with his sister and grandma was a bit smaller than the White House. But it was no less grand. At least not in Ernie's eyes.

Hadn't President Lincoln grown up in a log cabin? Well, then.

He looked at the magazine pictures tacked up over his bed. There was Magic Johnson, M.C. Hammer, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (his grandma had put that one up). As far asErnie knew, none of those guys were born famous.

Ernie decided that now was the time to start working on someday becoming famous. After all, today was his tenth birth day, his first two-digit year.

He would begin by using his full name. From now on, he would go by "Ernest." He wished he could add "sir" or "the third" to his name, but that wouldn't be honest. His father's name had been Carl. And practical Grandma was very big on honesty.

Ernie -- or rather, Ernest -- faced-his bedroom mirror. He began to practice being great. He spoke to the mirror, pretending to be a spokesperson for the president.

"Sir Ernest Peterson the third, sir? I hear you're the fastest bike racer in the world. The president would like to see you."

Ernest bowed to the mirror. He began to answer himself. But, too late, he saw his sister's face appear in the doorway. As usual, Sniffy, her small brown-and-white dog, scampered around her ankles.

"Grandma," Melissa screamed, just like an eight-year-old, "Ernie's talking to him self!"

"Get lost," said Ernest. Then he stormed to the kitchen after Melissa and her mutt. He said, "What we need in this family is a man."

"Delusions of grandeur!" Melissa cried.

"You don't even know what that means," Ernest accused.

Melissa only laughed. Ernest thought her laugh was like a sick monkey's. Her voice came out in high sharp notes. Sniffy barked along with her.

For once their grandma didn't take Melissa's side, probably on account of it being Ernest's birthday. She said, "That's enough, Melissa. We're waiting on you to be the man around here, Ernie. That's your job."

Ernest wanted to continue making smart comments. But he caught sight of the big bowl of dark, gooey chocolate in front of his grandma. He closed his mouth. She must be making a birthday cake. Then he remembered his bike. He looked quickly around the kitchen. No bike.

His excitement dropped like a rock off a cliff. Besides the cake batter, there was not a sign of his birthday to be seen.

Ernest sat quietly at the table and ate his eggs and toast. Whenever he felt disappointed, he thought about his parents. He didn't really remember anything about them. From pictures, he knew that his mother wore her hair in a short Afro and his father wore a neat mustache. Both his parents were tall like he was. He was sure that they would have gotten him a bike for his birthday.

All year long he'd dropped big hints to his grandma about the bike he wanted. He knew she didn't have a lot of money. But for once, couldn't she give up on being practical?

After all, look what Melissa got for her birthday ! For months Melissa talked about wanting a puppy. Finally, his grandma found a free one. A little girl was giving them away in front of the grocery store. It even had all its shots.

Well! Ernest thought hotly. Maybe Sniffy came free at first. But with all the food that dog ate, they could have bought him three bikes. Besides, what can you do with a dog in the city? A bike was a whole lot more practical than that.

Sometimes Ernest thought that had his parents lived, they wouldn't have been so poor. At the time of the accident, his mother had been in medical school and his father had just opened his own auto parts shop. They had taken out loans for the school and business, so that when they were killed in the car accident, there was no money left.

"Finish your breakfast," his grandma said. Ernest lowered his head near his plate. He felt bad for having such selfish thoughts. Especially the part about not having enough money. Grandma worked hard to take care of Melissa and him.

When Ernest had almost finished eating, his grandma said, "I've got something to show you, Ernie."

"It's Ernest now, Grandma," Ernest said. Then he wished he hadn't. She gave him one of her long cool looks. Those looks usually meant he had gone too far with something. But now she just shook her head (probably because it was his birthday) and said, "Come here."

Ernest pushed the last of his toast in his mouth. Then he followed Melissa and their grandma to her room. There, in the middle of the rug, was a huge, awkward-looking object covered with a big white sheet.

Ernest was so excited he couldn't swallow his toast. It stuck on the way down, and he began choking. Both his grandma and Melissa pounded him on the back until he stopped.

"Go ahead," his grandma said. She didn't smile often, but now she grinned widely. "Pull off that sheet."

Ernest walked toward the sheet like a cat creeping up on a mouse. He moved slowly and carefully. He circled around it once. Then he took a corner of the sheet. Like a magician, he yanked it away in one movement.

Ernest's heart sank. There sat a huge, clunky, yellow bike. The seat was broad and flat. The wheels were fat. The handle bars did not curl under like a racing bike. They were wide, thick, and sturdy. Hanging off the ends of the handlebars were colorful streamers. Baskets were attached on either side of the back wheel. The fenders and frame were rusted in places. Worst of all, there was a little bell on the handlebars.

The secondhand bike was, above all else, one hundred percent practical.

Ernest sucked in his breath. This was his birthday. And his grandma spent her money to get him something she thought he'd love.

"Gee, Grandma," Ernest said, "it's ... uh, just what I wanted."

His grandma beamed her biggest smile. She said, "I had those baskets put on so you could pick things up for me at the store."

Ernest wanted to die. How could he ride around the neighborhood on this thing? What would his friends say?

He'd soon find out because his grandma said, "Go on out and try it. While you're at it, pick up some butter for your birthday dinner."

"Maybe I'll wait awhile," Ernest tried.

"Go on!" his grandma said. "I need the butter."

Ernest shook his head. Then he wheeled the big ugly bike out the apartment door.

Meet the Author

LUCY JANE BLEDSOE is also the author of The Big Bike Race. She lives in Berkeley, California.

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