PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: The Red Bicycle by Jude Isabella


In this unique nonfiction picture book, the main character is a bicycle that starts its life like so many bicycles in North America, being owned and ridden by a young boy. The boy, Leo, treasures his bicycle so much he gives it a name -- Big Red. But eventually Leo outgrows Big Red, and this is where the bicycle's story takes a turn from the everyday, because Leo decides to donate it to an organization that ships bicycles to Africa. Big Red is sent to Burkina Faso, in West Africa, where it finds a home with Alisetta, who uses it to gain quicker access to her family's sorghum field and to the market. Then, over time, it finds its way to a young woman named Haridata, who has a new purpose for the bicycle -- renamed Le Grand Rouge -- delivering medications and bringing sick people to the hospital.

This book makes an excellent choice for cultural studies classes; author Jude Isabella has provided several terrific suggestions in the back of the book for projects large and small, while a map shows the distance the bicycle traveled across the Atlantic Ocean.

Award-winning illustrator Simone Shin's digitally composed artwork includes evocative depictions of Alisetta's and Haridata's communities in rural Africa, creating vivid comparisons between Leo's life and their lives. Youngsters will learn how different the world is for those who rely on bicycles as a mode of transportation, and how one ordinary bicycle -- and a child's desire to make a difference -- can change lives across the world. This book also offers an excellent opportunity for expanding character education lessons on caring, compassion and empathy to include the wider world.


I have become a big fan of Kids Can Press Citizen Kid series.  These books usually contain an interesting, informative and often inspiring story that promotes wise/kind world citizenship.  The Red Bicycle fits well within these parameters.  The story follows the journey of a red bicycle as it makes it way from a city in America where it has been well-loved and used by a boy to Africa into the hands of a young girl who uses the bike to aide her families' survival.  Alisetta uses the bike to travel to the fields which helps her scare off the birds which raid her families' sorghum fields which allows her to harvest more than normal.  With a larger harvest the family eats better and has a means of transportation to village markets.  Eventually the bike becomes an ambulance allowing medical workers to transport the injured to the nearest clinic or hospital.  I loved this story because it shows the value is one small act of kindness: the boy's giving up his bike when he's outgrown it.  The illustrations are beautiful and strikingly highlight the value of the bike in the lives of those who use it.  I also appreciated the information and photographs at the end of the book which shows the value of bicycles in Burkina Faso, the African country where the story takes place.  Suggestions for places to donate to or volunteer with are also included.  I found the book inspiring and I am now looking for a place to donate my old used bicycle.


  1. Thanks for this recommendation! I hadn't heard of it and have suggested my library purchase it. It sounds like it fits well into that growing universe of books, like One Plastic Bag, showing the world beyond our continental borders.


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