Thursday, January 17, 2013

'The Bear's Bicycle' a route to reaching all ages on safety

First Published in The Coloradoan, Jan. 7, 2013
By Rick Price
During three years of teaching in the City’s Safe Routes to School program I’ve been surveying children’s literature on bicycling.  There are some wonderful children’s books about bicycling available and there are some absolutely terrible bicycle safety books – terrible because they are boring and because they try to teach kids by lecturing them rather than through creative engagement.

But at least one book should get the award for excellence in both entertainment and bicycle safety.  It is The Bear’s Bicycle written by Emilie Warren McLeod and illustrated by David McPhail (Joy Street Books, Little, Brown and Company).  In a read-aloud program this book could reach elementary school kids, seniors or parents and CSU student volunteers all at the same time. 

This story begins with a simple statement:  “every afternoon we go bike riding.”   An illustration shows a little boy and his teddy bear preparing their bikes for a ride.  The boy checks the air in the tires and tests the brakes in preparation for the ride. 

Kindergarteners through second graders sit spellbound when I read this to a class.  I ask them to look carefully for lessons they would like to teach bear, who is the alter ego of Tommy in this book, and is not the safest of cyclists.   

The bike ride begins with the two cyclists coasting down the driveway.  Tommy (the boy) looks left and right, then signals a right turn while bear coasts down the driveway, turns right without stopping and picks a few apples off a tree in the yard while oblivious to anything else around him. 

The book continues in this vein:  Tommy walks his bike across the street after first checking for traffic while bear rides right into a milk truck.  Tommy watches for hazards such as opening car doors, debris or dogs while bear is oblivious to all of these dangers.  Tommy stops at stop signs, keeps to the right and warns pedestrians of his approach. At the end of the afternoon he wipes his feet before entering the house.  Bear does the opposite on all of these.

At the end of this book I ask kids what they would tell bear to help make him a safer cyclist.  Hands shoot up.  “Bear,” the kids begin, “you should stop at stop signs.”  Or “Bear,” they’ll admonish, “you need to walk your bike across the street” or “yield to pedestrians.” 

No bicycle book is perfect.  Inevitably one of the kids will raise his hand and say, “Bear, you need to wear a helmet.”  Indeed, neither bear nor Tommy wear helmets in this book.  That’s a failing, for many, with any kids’ bike book.  For me it is a teaching moment.  I never complete my lesson without mentioning the importance of wearing helmets.  The other thing about this book that makes it less than perfect is that both Tommy and bear use bikes with training wheels.