The best books about getting around

Who am I?

Am I an expert on transportation? No. But I’m fascinated by movement. Physical movement (how do bike gears actually work?) and metaphorical (how does life actually work?) I did enjoy a brief moment as the kind of unofficial bike traffic reporter when I was on CBC Radio here in Canada. I’d report on my 4 am commute to work. But as a writer and illustrator for kids, I know the freedom transportation represents. We all want to fly. In MINRS I write about spaceships. We all want to see the world. In The Fabulous Zed Watson! I write (with my kid Basil) about epic road trips.


I wrote...

MINRS, 1

By Kevin Sylvester,

Book cover of MINRS, 1

What is my book about?

MINRS combines things I loved as a kid – space, science, pirates, stuffed toys, and survival. A community of miners and their families have moved to a new planet – Perses. During a communications blackout with Earth, the miners are attacked. Only a handful of children survive. Christopher is not the kid to be the leader. He’s shy, a bit of a geek, and very anxious. But along with his friends Elena and Fatima he’ll make discoveries about the mining company and himself…discoveries that might save the kids…or get them all killed. The other fun thing about MINRs is that I created my own underground high-speed vehicle… part submarine, part Horta, and part Formula One race car. It’s called a Digger and it’s the car a 12-year old me wishes he had.

The books I picked & why

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The Boundless

By Kenneth Oppel, Jim Tierney (illustrator),

Book cover of The Boundless

Why this book?

The titular Boundless is a train, and my grandparents were all train people in Canada. One of my most vivid early memories is being in the engine with my grandpa.

At 11 kilometers long, the Boundless is also a living, moving city. Ken makes a journey through the train like a journey through time, space, and history. Each time Will, the main character, leaps from one car to another, the reader also takes a leap into a new world. Why is Will jumping from car to car? Because he’s witnessed a murder, and the culprit is hot on his tail.


This One Summer

By Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (illustrator),

Book cover of This One Summer

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite books, for a hundred different reasons, but for the sake of this post, it’s because of bikes. The book is not about bikes, but the main characters sometimes use bikes to get around their summer stomping grounds. 

This One Summer is about two girls, friends, who are at different stages of maturity.

Bikes are also a mode of transportation that changes as we age. The joy of that first ride without training wheels is an anchor memory to our childhood. Windy is still tied to that childhood. But Rose, the older of the two, rides her bike into the more “grown-up” situations in the book, including one that changes her view of herself and her life.

I still bike everywhere (I have never owned a car) and bikes do represent everything from freedom and a child-like joy to real danger. So, the bike represents that diverging of paths. I might be making a stretch here, but it’s one more sign of the richness of this book that every time I go back to it, I see something new.

Also, as an illustrator, I am in awe of Jillian’s ability to draw perfect bikes. Bikes and horses are Achilles’ heels for many illustrators (including me).


Miles Morales: Spider-Man

By Jason Reynolds, Kadir Nelson (illustrator),

Book cover of Miles Morales: Spider-Man

Why this book?

Okay, okay, I realize that using webbing isn’t an actual way to get around, but neither is my digger. And I wouldn’t be a reader, writer, or artist today if it hadn’t been for Spider-Man. Young Kevin spent every day imagining the freedom of spinning a web and flying through the air. Even though I grew up in a small town with two steeples and a three-story inn, it was a captivating idea.

And wow does this version of the story kick things up a notch. I mean, I already love the Miles Morales version of Spidey, but Reynolds kicks it all up a notch or five. He has such a deft hand as a storyteller with a message. Never preachy, but deeply felt and funny (sort of like a super-hero version of Jerry Kraft’s New Kid) this was a ride. 

And a cover pic by Khadir Nelson? Sign me up!


The Search for Wondla, 1

By Tony Diterlizzi,

Book cover of The Search for Wondla, 1

Why this book?

One of my kid-lit heroes, and clearly a writer/illustrator who grew up (like me) with a love for the vehicles we saw in science fiction. He has Eva Nine and her pals (and enemies) flying around in ships that are clearly inspired by pod-racers, x-wing fighters, the Millennium Falcon, and Flash Gordon. (Then, as the series goes on, we even get airships!)

But the thing that anchors the series is the wonderfully drawn characters. Eva Nine is all of us as kids… eager to break away but also tied to the adults around us. That tension between knowing when to hold on and knowing when it’s time to say goodbye is what really kept me with her on her journey.


Pony

By R.J. Palacio,

Book cover of Pony

Why this book?

This is the most recent book I recommend, and it’s here because I love horses and... wow, did the breadth of this work blow me away. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I turned the page, but what I got was a book that thrilled me as a western, intrigued me as a scientific history, and chilled me as a ghost story.

As she did with Wonder, Palacio gives the reader a view of the world as seen through the eyes of someone who is “different”. Silas, the main character, has a best friend who’s a ghost. His father is a talented photographer and scientist with a mysterious past.

The story kicks into high gear right away when armed men show up and kidnap the dad. His dad tells Silas to stay behind. But when a mysterious pony shows up, Silas takes it as a sign that he needs to go find his dad. 

Like This One Summer, the book is not about horses… but the pony, and the journey on the pony, represents the leap we all make from innocence to experience. An all-ages story.


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