Ride, Ricardo, ride! by Phil Cummings
Ill. Shane Devries. Omnibus, 2015. ISBN 9781742990736
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. War. Village life. Hope. Ricardo lives in a small mountain village in Italy, within a close community. His father teaches him to ride his bike and he can often be seen riding through the village, past the old men talking in the streets, past the workers in the fields and the happy, chasing children. But one day shadows appear. The village, once open and friendly, now has closed windows and doors as the noise increases and the sound of boots becomes louder. Father and Ricardo take apart the bike and hide its parts. The shadows remain, and one day his father disappears. The shadows eventually leave and the village returns to its old self, with singing and dancing, although some of its people are missing. Ricardo retrieves the pieces of his bike and puts it back together, because he knows his father would have wanted it that way. He has grown, the war is over and the memory of his father's words ring in his ears as he rides his bike once again through the village.
This wonderful book extolls the persistence of the human spirit, the perseverance of humanity in overcoming the worst of times to look forward to a brighter future. The shadows are never articulated, but they are there, their consequences tangible with the death of Ricardo's father, the community's fear, with the illustrations showing the smashed photograph and the bombed buildings.
I love the way Cummings replicates situations, as the end parallels the beginning with someone calling out, Ride, Ricardo, ride, underlining again the continuation of life.
And Devries' illustrations are absorbing, with his all-seeing eye approach, looking down upon so many scenes, making the reader a spectator, someone spying on this wonderful little community. His invading force casts long shadows across the pages, the village and the inhabitants, as well as Ricardo and his bike. Devries uses milky brown colours to great effect, with little colour showing through on the pages where the shadows appear, but small touches of colour underscore the end of war where blue sky appears once again.
Little touches by Devries made me catch my breath. Watch out for the wonderful image of the kitchen, the shadows of the planes overhead, and the image of mother comforting Ricardo amongst others.
At a time when more and more picture books about war cross my desk, this stands out in its depiction of the effect of war upon children while through it all, life persists.