Pedal Power cover shows people of many ages riding bicycles across an Amsterdam canal bridge

Pedal Power cover shows people of many ages riding bicycles across an Amsterdam canal bridge

I’m on the wonderful Kirby Larson’s blog talking about nonfiction back matter. Please visit!

Our family lived in the Netherlands for several years. We owned a car but seldom used it. It was much, much easier to navigate our ancient town by bike than by car, and with bikes parallel parking was never an issue (though finding an empty bike rack sometimes was!). Two of our children were born while we lived there, and they hated their carseats. Even when the cold North Sea wind blew, they much preferred riding in their bike seats to being cooped up in the car. And our family’s dependence on bicycles was not quirky or unique. For all of our neighbors, bikes were the standard of transportation. So I was astonished to read Pedal Power and learn that it was not so many years ago that bicycles were not the go-to form of transportation in the Netherlands.

In this nonfiction picture book, Allan Drummond traces the history of the bicycle on Dutch streets. He profiles Maartje Rutten, one of the bicycle activists who agitated for traffic changes in the 1970s. He shows, especially in illustrations, how children participated in the protests (and I loved the back matter photographs that show children activists). He makes it clear that change didn’t come about because of a single protest but because of protests and actions over time. This is a wonderful addition to his other books about environmental change, like Green City, and I personally found it very inspiring that such a pervasive cultural change could occur in such a relatively short time.

In the back matter, Drummond talks about his own connection to bicycle community, about traveling to Amsterdam to interview Maartje Rutten, and about the ways bicycles have become important in other cities.

I’ll be returning the copy of the book that I read to my library later today. And I’ll be doing it, of course, on my bicycle.

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond. Farrar Straus Giroux: 2017.

Children with book around a globe

I participate every Wednesday in the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy.


Boy points at his house. One sister sits on the roof reading. Another sister is swinging.This charming memoir, a follow-up to Jonathan Bean’s equally delightful Building Our House, takes us through a day of home-school with his family. The narrator, a cheery blond-headed boy (suspiciously like the photos of cheery blond-headed Jonathan Bean in the back of the book) shows us his world of school. He stands in front of his house and announces, “This is my home.” After the page turn, he’s still playing in front of his house when he continues, “And this is my school! What, confused? Okay, allow me to explain.”

With the refrain “This is…” ringing, we see his sisters and his classmates, his classrooms and his cafeteria. We watch a whole wonderful, chaotic day of home-schooling unfold before us. We go in the family van to the library and to art class until mom collapses, exhausted.

But that’s okay, because Dad arrives home just in time to teach shop and to do chores and to play sports and to teach astronomy and, finally, to read a bedtime story.

The book concludes, “Because this is my home, this is my school.”

The pictures are full of delightful detail. If you look closely on the copyright page, you’ll see Dad heading to school and the neighborhood friends getting onto the school bus, and the endpapers are some of my favorite of the year. the front endpapers show the house in early morning light; the final endpapers show it in moonlight.

The author’s note has a lovely tribute to Jonathan Bean’s parents and is crammed with family snapshots from his growing-up years.

I’ve already shared this with homeschooling friends. I think it will be an enduring favorite!

An interview about the book with Jonathan Bean.

This Is My Home, This Is My School, by Jonathan Bean. Farrar Straus Giroux: 2015.

Anna and Solomon     I firmly believe that every family has a story that its children need to know, and I love nonfiction picture books that grow from those stories. This delightful book came about when the New Yorker artist, Harry Bliss, finally convinced his mother-in-law to put her family story on paper. It is a beautiful collaboration.

The story itself, as with so many family stories, is simple and not heavy-handed: Solomon moves from Russia (to escape pogroms) and works to bring his wife to the New World, too. But Anna feels an obligation to her extended family and over and over sends other family members in her place. We feel Solomon’s deep love and longing for his wife, and his wife’s strong sense of loving duty. The story ends in a beautiful celebration of family.

Snyder uses page turns brilliantly over and over to build up suspense: will it be Anna getting off the ship this time?

I also admire the adroitness with which the  historical context was handled:

Shortly after Anna and Solomon’s marriage, a calamity befell the Jews of Vitebsk. The ruler of the land, called the Czar, sent his soldiers on horses to the streets where the Jews lived. The soldiers entered their homes, broke their windows and furniture, stole their brass candlesticks, and destroyed their holy books. Solomon decided that he no longer wanted to live in a place where his people were persecuted and harm might come to Anna.

In four sentences, Snyder explains what a pogrom is, shows us how wrenching it is, and makes it clear why Anna later in the book will feel obligated to help rescue her extended family members. This is historical scaffolding at its best.

It’s a heart-warming story and may inspire you to call up your grandma so you can hear the story of your family, too.

Anna & Solomon, by Elaine Snyder, illustrated by Harry Bliss.  Farrar Straus Giroux: 2014.