Under a “stretching-out sky at the edge of the no-go desert,” a dark brown child with mirrored sunglasses gives readers a tour of a desert village, from “our mud-for-walls home” to “the sand hill we built to slide down.” But the best thing? Soaring out into the sand on the bike the kids have created from cans, discarded wood, and “a bell that used to be Mum’s milk pot.” In her picture book debut, Clarke’s lines sing with sound and rhythm, evoking the “shicketty shake” sound of the bike on sand hills. Street artist Rudd’s textured paint-and-cardboard collages create a strong sense of a place (the blaze and shadow of the desert) and the people who live there: the narrator’s “fed-up mum” in a hijab and robe, and the “crazy brothers” pictured bouncing on a police car, who write “BLM” on the bike’s license plate—a reference to Black Lives Matter, Rudd notes in an afterword. In an author’s note, Clarke writes about her experiences with poverty: “What these times taught me was how to make something out of nothing.” Without minimizing the clear references to economic and racial struggle, the words and images in this snapshot story pulse with resourceful ingenuity, joyful exuberance, and layered meanings. Ages 6–9. (Sept.)
PreS-Gr 2—In this Australian import, three siblings who live in a remote village "at the edge of the no-go desert" in a "mud-for-walls home," make do with what they have to entertain themselves. They like to run, jump, and climb, but their pride and joy is their bike, which they cobbled together out of spare parts and junk. The handlebars are made of branches, and the wood-cut wheels go "winketty wonk" as they ride, a nice onomatopoetic touch. The story by itself is superb, but the artwork elevates it further. Rudd's street art approach is raw yet refined as nearly every brushstroke is visible on the repurposed cardboard backgrounds. Much like Javaka Steptoe's Radiant Child or Jane Yolen's What To Do with a Box, the format shows the incredible creativity of young minds combined with the constraints of poverty. Rudd not only perfectly matches the tone culturally but also works in a few nods to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he explains in his artist's note. VERDICT An excellent story and conversation starter.—Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI
A daring girl in a desert village enjoys riding her brother's bike made of recycled materials in this unusual picture book by Clarke and political artist Rudd, an Australian import.
A young girl with dark skin, cornrows, and shiny sunglasses, wearing shorts, sneakers, and a T-shirt, introduces readers to "the village where we live inside our mud-for-walls home," her "crazy brothers" who dance atop a police car, and her "fed-up mum," who looks elegant in a white hijab and dress. The narrator shows readers the sand hill and the "big Fiori tree" where they play boisterously. "But the best thing of all in our village is me and my brothers' bike." The bike's pieces are composed of a bucket seat, tin-can handlebars, wood-cut wheels, and other spare parts; the flag is a flour sack, and the bell is Mum's milk pot. The license plate—a piece of bark—has "BLM" painted on it, a political statement that echoes an earlier image of the narrator's brothers playing atop a junked police car. It's a rugged ride over sand hills and fields and straight through the home (which perhaps explains why Mum is so fed up), and Rudd's urban artwork is a fitting way to show it. Over a cardboard background, streaks of paint define the people, objects, and movements that make up the girl's world. The kids in motion on their bike are rendered in an artful smear that evokes speed. The dark, bright, and desert hues create a blazing-hot world readers can almost step right into.
Showcasing the fun to be had in a spare world, this book is just what many of us need right now. (author's note, illustrator's note) (Picture book. 3-9)
Clarke’s poetically compressed language hurtles joyfully along, while Rudd’s illustrations, made on cardboard boxes with spirited swaths of paint, burst with irrepressible life. Dreaming and building, we see, go hand in hand no matter where you live.
—The New York Times Book Review
The dark, bright, and desert hues create a blazing-hot world readers can almost step right into. Showcasing the fun to be had in a spare world, this book is just what many of us need right now.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In her picture book debut, Clarke’s lines sing with sound and rhythm, evoking the “shicketty shake” sound of the bike on sand hills. Street artist Rudd’s textured paint-and-cardboard collages create a strong sense of a place (the blaze and shadow of the desert) and the people who live there...Without minimizing the clear references to economic and racial struggle, the words and images in this snapshot story pulse with resourceful ingenuity, joyful exuberance, and layered meanings.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
There are small mysteries and deep shadows, figurative as well as literal, that stretch among Rudd’s provocative paint-on-corrugated packing box illustrations in this Australian import...With every visual detail a poignant counterpoint to the simple storyline, there are depths here for older children to plumb.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)
The story by itself is superb, but the artwork elevates it further. Rudd’s street art approach is raw yet refined as nearly every brushstroke is visible on the repurposed cardboard backgrounds. Much like Javaka Steptoe’s Radiant Child or Jane Yolen’s What To Do with a Box, the format shows the incredible creativity of young minds combined with the constraints of poverty...An excellent story and conversation starter.
—School Library Journal (starred review)
Clarke’s spare, mellifluous language dances across the pages, full of vivid imagery and hyphenated turns of poetry (“out in the no-go desert, under the stretching-out sky”), all of it hand- lettered on Rudd’s rough, tactile paintings...These illustration choices reflect the book’s very theme—exposing the harsh reality of life that some people face while acknowledging the resilience that comes from homemade joy.
—The Horn Book (starred review)
The notes at the end of the book from both the author and illustrator add context and take the reader outside the story into broader themes of the world beyond, including the Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street movements, making this simple yet joyous picture book a potential springboard for discussion, inquiry, and research. Told in free verse from the perspective of a young female narrator, this story speaks to the spirit of children, play, and makers everywhere.
—School Library Connection
Words hum with catchy musicality on edgy acrylic-on-cardboard art that parallels the bouncy story line and makes powerful political points as well...Neither heavy-handed nor Pollyanna, this timely book honors the power of imagination to discover possibility amid hardship.
—San Francisco Chronicle
This winning book will make a great read-aloud for primary grades and provides great material for discussions about creativity, the power of play and imagination, and how to best be happy with what you already have.
—New York Journal of Books
The vivid rhythms of Clark's buoyant prose...are perfectly matched by the bold lines and vivid splashes of color of street artist Van Thanh Rudd's marvelous illustrations in this delightful, exuberant, entirely original picture book.
It’s so incredibly beautiful and the art is magnificent.
—A Fuse #8 Production (blog)
Vibrant, energetic, and wildly original! Who wouldn’t love those imaginative kids . . . and their weary mom?
—The Booklist Reader
Kids having fun. Being silly. Being adventurous. Having the times of their lives. This book exudes that very joy. It alludes to police brutality, economic disparities, and the Black Lives Matter movement while at the same time showing children having a great time thanks to their own devices.
—A Fuse #8 Production (blog)
Bold, beautiful acrylic paintings atop recycled cardboard. This is the sort of book that wows you from the front cover on.
—100 Scope Notes (blog)