Written and Illustrated by Berkeley Breathed
Little, Brown and Company, 1994
During the Depression years, before the second war, my folks would banish me from East Orange, New Jersey, to Michigan for the school year and then ship me to upstate New York for summer camp.
Recommended by: Adriana (Arizona)
How did you discover this book? I randomly picked it up in a bookstore or library.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy with doubts about Santa Claus yearns for a special bike for Christmas
Red wants an Official Buck Tweed bicycle but knows his aunt can’t afford it. When she gives him a Red Ranger space uniform and he realizes it’s just a dyed pajama top, he is disappointed. He visits the mysterious old man who lives on a nearby hill, who is rumored to be Santa Claus. The man tells him he is 435 years old and Red believes he’s lying. Red says he would believe if he could see a reindeer fly and the man makes his dog fly. So he tells the man his wish for a Tweed bicycle and he promises to do his best. On Christmas morning, there’s no bike under the tree, out in the yard or anywhere in the house. Red, furious, marches back to the old man’s house to confront him.
When he gets there, the old man is bedridden and surrounded by elves. The man takes Red’s hand and asks nervously what he thought of the bike. Red chooses to tell him how overjoyed he is with the bike and tells him all the great adventures he plans to have on it. As he is getting ready to leave, the old man gets out of bed and announces that he’s back and it’s time to fly (causing all the assembled elves to float up into the air). When Red gets home, he looks up and sees the bicycle stuck in a tree. (His wish was mistakenly heard as a ‘treed’ bicycle.) Red goes in to tell his aunt how much he loved the space uniform she had given him. And the book ends with a photograph of the treed bicycle.
Author/Illustrator Berkeley Breathed gives us another wonderful story, full of equal parts humor and warmth. He presents this story as a tale told by his father and includes a photograph of his father as a boy on the dedication page, as well as a picture of himself as an adult with his father from 1990. He shows young Red to be a cynical and disillusioned child of the depression, which makes everything that happens to him even more meaningful, especially when he puts his own sense of betrayal aside because he doesn’t want to hurt the old man’s feelings. It’s a really beautiful moment
The artwork is classic Breathed, with gorgeous details that capture the essence of life for young Red. I love the opening picture of Red sitting in front of the shop. Just about everything in the picture is done in muted colors, but the Buck Tweed bike (and even the movie theater marquis advertising the Buck Tweed movie) is bright red, presenting a great contrast between what he wants and what he has. The photograph in the back of the book shows the bizarre image of the bicycle up in the tree. The story on the real bike is that a young boy left the bike (that he didn’t particularly want) by the tree one day and never came back for it, so the tree grew around it. I don’t know – I think I like Mr. Breathed’s explanation better. This book takes a little longer to read, but is definitely worth it, particularly if you’re snuggled up near a Christmas tree with a cup of cocoa.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that believing when it seems hopeless is the best breeding ground for miracles.