Pedal It! How Bicycles are Changing the World by Michelle Mulder

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The children’s nonfiction picture book Pedal It! How Bicycles are Changing the World by Michelle Mulder has details that appeal to my love of history as well as my interest in environmental issues, and it opens the door to so many interesting discussions and “homeschool lessons.”Pedal it! How Bicycling is changing the World by Michelle Mulder.

The book explains the history of the bicycle starting with Baron von Drais walking machine and moving on through the “boneshakers,” penny-farthings to the first chain-driven bicycles. Children can learn about the different trade-offs of safety, comfort and speed.

The environmental section of the book is not too fearful but focused instead on the positive, though I find the statistics a little strange. “One liter (roughly a quarter of a gallon) of gasoline has enough energy in it for a small car to travel about 65 kilometers (40 miles). With the same amount of food energy a person on a bicycle can travel up to 1,037 kilometers (644 miles).” I’m wondering about the perceived equivalency here. Are they talking about one liter of food energy? No, probably the caloric equivalent, yet that seems strange since its not like we could offer a person two equivalent backpacks, one with gas and the other with the food, and the corresponding methods of transportation. Food for 644 miles would probably appear quite a bit more awkward, and the time it would take would be quite a bit longer than driving by car. Bicycling has to come with lifestyle differences.

The book is filled with beautiful stories and pictures about life in various countries. Children will be amazed by how much a person can carry while bicycling! That said, there’s a definate lack of safety-helmets and if you’re trying to drill into your children that the only way to bike is with a helmet and two hands on the handle bar you might not appreciate the beauty of the pictures. On the other hand, the pictures could lead to some interesting discussions about relative safety issues, the fact our expectations for safety are higher becuase we have the resources, and about the idea that in North America bicycling the danger in bicyling is partly due to the proximity to cars.

My son on a penny-farthering exhibit at the Ottawa Science and Technology Museum. We saw this a week or so after we first read the book.
My son on a penny-farthering exhibit at the Ottawa Science and Technology Museum. We saw this a week or so after we first read the book.

The book could also lead to different discussions about wealth by bringing in stories of people living in places where the resources available to them are drastically different than what we have. In India the CentriCycle allows healthcare workers to check for iron-deficiency anemia using a repurposed bicycle as a centrifuge. How would acknowledging the differences in technology and expectations between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations affect discussions on health-care reforms? Those of us in North America tend to expect ‘the best’ of everything without acknowledging the amazingness of the resources we do have. Where does that sense of entitlement come from, and do we really believe that we work harder (and thus deserve more, according to those who believe that wealth is a reflection of work) than the street-kid bicycle couriers?

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  • Jen

    Great point about the entitlement complexes so many in developed nations have.

    We are trying very hard to bicycle as much as we can. I feel that as convenient as a car is, it has really hurt the environment and people’s health. I wish governments felt the same and put more money into bicycling infrastructure

    • ChristyK

      Governments putting more money into bicycling infrastructure could help make bicycling a little less inconvenient. We need to recognize how much cars are subsidized and start subsiziding their competition more!

  • Rebecca

    Interesting review of what sounds like an interesting book. We are a biking family (my husband, in particular, has commuted by bike ever since starting 1st grade a very long time ago). We commit to walking and biking wherever possible, and I am fascinated by some of the amazing bike trips people did in the early days, including some around-the-world trips more than 100 years ago.

    The helmet question is an interesting one, because of course it’s not necessarily true that biking in other places is safer–but we have the resources to have helmets, while those in much of the world are lucky just to have the bike.

    I agree about the weird statistics. Also, I’ve not yet met a car that can travel 644 miles on a liter of gas. Even our Prius needs close to 2 gallons to go that far. And I wonder what the caloric equivalent is? I would need 6 days to ride that far, even assuming I could do 6 back-to-back centuries (which I doubt). I would need about 6,000 calories each day.

    Just rambling!

    • ChristyK

      You’re right, it isn’t that biking is safer elsewhere. I’m tweaking the post a little on that part.

      I enjoy reading your rambling. Come back and ramble any day.

  • Marie-Claude Leroux

    Great review! This book looks great – and thanks for pointing out what might leave us (adults and kids) with questions, and lead in’s to discussions regarding the social and environmental aspects of bicycles.

  • Reshama

    That was a powerful read! Interesting topic on “entitlement”. As a young girl I saw my dad bike to the railway station in India in all kids on weather. But although the roads were not populated with speeding cars, there is just too much pollution to do this on a long term basis. In some of the cities near my hometown I still see a huge class of people still biking and while that is encouraging for environmental reasons, it far too dangerous from a health perspective. Its difficult to choose sides but I think the effort must be towards increasing awareness towards bikers on the road and biking in general and encouraging more clean air days.
    Looking forward to reading this book! Thanks for sharing this excellent review on Kid Lit Blog Hop!

    • ChristyK

      Living as I do in a fairly northernly, unpopulated part of Canada, I’ve never considered the idea that air pollution would make biking unsafe. Thanks for bringing that up!

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