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!
About the Author
LUCY JANE BLEDSOE is also the author of The Big Bike Race. She lives in Berkeley, California.
Read an Excerpt
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.