Let’s go to an alien place…one where mothers are home-baking cookies, fathers build go-carts in the garage, children are obedient though sometimes mischievous, the streets are safe for kids even after dark, there is no TV, no internet, and the best place to be all summer long is outside, under a tree, with your friends. Where is this place? Utah 1955. It is the setting for The Big Red Bike by E.J. Tims.
The Big Red Bike is a warm recollection of being nine years old in a time when bike-riding, bottle-collecting, and jumping into ponds were enjoyed all summer with one’s best friends. Although marketed for adolescent readers, this book speaks to the memories of baby boomers throughout America, and is a pleasant read for adults.
Jay is at the center of this true story. His friends all have nice bikes, but his is “The Monster.” A hand-me-down from his three sisters, it is wired and prayed together. It may get Jay where he’s going most of the time, but it’s never a pleasant ride. One day he spies a beautiful, big red Schwinn bicycle in the local bike shop. This is the bike of his dreams, but the price ($129.95) is way out of his league.
What would you do to make your dreams come true? Is there any material thing you want that would be worth getting up hours early, delivering flyers, mowing lawns (at $1 each), shining shoes, delivering “spudnuts,” weeding, and ending your day bundling and delivering newspapers? For Jay, that bike is worth every moment of such effort.
Jay’s parents both work at the local military base and cannot afford to buy him a new bike, and certainly not his dream bike. One after another, money-making opportunities present themselves to Jay and he spends his summer earning The Big Red Bike. Along the journey, Tims recounts bittersweet tales of childhood friendships — stories of adventures and loss. He also shares the story of an adult friend who taught him an important lesson about himself, and provided him with the certainty that he could achieve his dreams.
Despite disappointments, tragedy, and a bit of bullying, Jay makes it through the summer. Tims’ gentle, enthusiastic narrative is a delight; the reading level of The Big Red Bike is 9-12.