There were two entrants to my Chilren’s Book Review Lottery. This week I’ll be sharing with you my thoughts on The Safe Return by Ashley Wheelock and Arwen Evans, illustrated by Abigail Gray Swartz.
Through staccato text, The Safe Return brings readers along on a group bike ride in which they can feel the whoosh of the wind and the flap of handle bar streamers as feet kick, balance, roll, and peddle.
Sneakers pound the pavement like a chorus of drums; their rhythm broken by the drrring of a bicycle bell. The story feels and sounds like a typical bike ride with a group of friends, but like everything else today it’s far from what we used to, only a year ago, think of as typical.
The children practice bicycle safety by strapping on their bicycle helmets, safely stowing a much loved stuffed bunny in his own basket and riding with parental supervision. But then the safety measures we’ve had to accept and use on a daily basis since March of 2020 come into play.
The children all wear masks that cover their mouth and nose as does the bunny and throughout their ride they practice social distancing. When a bicycle mishap occurs social distancing is maintained and when the bunny is lost and emotions are high, it is still practiced and maintained. The Safe Return is a great book to read to children in order to demonstrate best practices in as natural a way as possible.
The illustrations of the book use both a warm and cool palette which matches the warmth of the friendly outing as well as the practical need for and safe use of Covid-19 safety protocols. The illustrator does a beautiful job of conveying emotion through the characters’ eyes and through their body language. As a teacher for the visually impaired blind, I often work with students to improve their scanning skills in order to locate hidden pictures within complex spreads and the illustrator has done that within the book too!
The active prose is blended with imagery. The phrase, kick, balance, roll sets the book’s journey in motion. The use of numbers within the book is great for practicing basic numerical and mathematical concepts with children and those numbers propel the forward motion of the story and the bicyclists. There’s also a basic physics lesson within the book, that kids and parents will relate to. The imagery which is sprinkled throughout the text conveys an awareness the riders have of the beauty, the community, the friendship, and love surrounding them, as well as the precautions they need to use to protect themselves and others. There is so much that readers will take away with them from reading this book even it’s title, The Safe Return holds a duality of meaning that I think its readers will enjoy.